What Is a Radiation Physicist?

Research what it takes to become a radiation physicist. Learn about the job duties, education requirements and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Radiation Physicist?

Radiation physicists, also known as medical physicists, are scientists who specialize in studying how radiation can be used for medical purposes. Depending on their particular area of interest, they may conduct experiments on how radiation can be used to diagnose disease or how it can be used for medical interventions and therapies. They must also pay close attention to safety concerns when using this technology for health-related purposes. Based on the results of their experiments, they prepare them for presentation to the medical community, often in the form of academic journal articles.

The following table provides information for this career:

Degree Required Master's degree and doctorate in physics-related field.
Education Field of Study Medical physics, radiological physics
Certification Board certification required by many states and employers
Key Responsibilities Calculate, operate and manage the design of equipment, follow all safety precautions, consult with medical professionals on patient treatments
Job Growth (2014-24) 8% (physicists)*
Median Salary (2015) $111,580 (physicists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Radiation Physicist?

As a radiation physicist, you would handle the technical aspects of radiological equipment including managing the design and operation of equipment. You might calculate the strength of equipment, calculate the dosage of radiation and ensure proper safety precautions are in place. You'll consult with doctors and other medical personnel on patient treatments, offering advice about the use or dosage of radiation therapies. You would be the expert in charge of making sure radiation therapy is safe and effective for patients and those administering care.

You may work at hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities where radiation therapy is used. You might work on staff at a medical facility or you may work independently and go where you are needed to help with the installation and initial setup of a new system. You might even work for a network of hospitals, offering radiation expertise at the various hospitals and medical facilities within the network.

What Education Will I Need?

In order to qualify for certification, a radiation physicist must hold a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree or doctorate in medical physics, radiological physics or a related degree. In a physics program, you'll take core classes in science, mathematics and computers. You will also study physics in-depth through learning about theories, mechanics, statistics and electricity. Graduate programs also include research study and may involve writing a research paper.

What Are My Certification Options?

Many states and employers require radiation physicists to be professionally certified. The American Board of Radiology (ABR) offers board certification in radiology (www.theabr.org). To earn board certification, you must prove your knowledge and skills of radiology through a series of assessment exams. You must also have a graduate degree in the field and at least three years of experience working under a certified radiation physicist in a clinical environment.

The American Board of Medical Physics (ABMP) offers certification in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and medical health physics (www.abmpexam.com). The MRI physics certification tests your knowledge of MRI operations and technology. The medical health physics certification tests your knowledge of radiation procedures and standards. Certification requirements include a graduate degree from an accredited radiation physics program.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a physicist, you could choose to focus your research on a non-medical area of the field, such as astrophysics or particle physics. Within these subspecialties, you could do basic research, or you could study real-world applications of physics concepts. Alternatively, if you know you want to work in the medical field, you could consider becoming a practicing doctor or surgeon. This would require you to complete a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and a residency program.

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