What's the Job Outlook for a Medical Physicist?
Explore the career requirements for medical physicists. Get the facts about education requirements, licensure and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.
What Is a Medical Physicist?
A medical physicist is a physicist who specializes in studying how radiation technology can be used to diagnose and treat diseases. Depending on their interests within the field, they may look for safer, more effective ways to use radiation to combat diseases like cancer, or they may work to develop more accurate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for diagnostic purposes. Based on their findings, they write up their results for presentation to the medical community, most commonly by publishing articles in academic journals. The chart below provides an overview of this profession.
|Degree Required||Master's degree or doctorate|
|Education Field of Study||Physics|
|Training Required||Clinical field practice in a residency program|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking; analytical, mathematical and problem solving skills|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||9% (for physicists)*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$120,950 (for physicists)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Is the Job Description of a Medical Physicist?
A medical physicist may work in clinical, research, development or teaching positions. As a physicist, you typically consult with doctors, patients, radiologists and other medical personnel to help diagnose and determine correct treatment methods. You may help to develop equipment for use in treating medical conditions and diseases. Another responsibility may be to figure out how to safely use processes, such as radiation, in treatments. In a teaching position, you would instruct others on the methods, procedures and techniques used in medical physics.
You'll work mostly with radiation therapies, equipment and treatment methods. This requires knowledge of how equipment works, the technology behind it and how it affects the human body, both positively as a treatment and negatively as a safety risk. Part of your job is to be aware of safety precautions and be able to recognize malfunctioning equipment.
What Education Do I Need?
To be a medical physicist you need a master's or doctorate degree in medical physics or a related field, such as physics or radiation biology. You also need clinical practice in the field, which is usually done through a 1-2 year residency program. In a medical physics program, you may take courses in research methods, science, radiation engineering, mathematics and medical ethics. Most programs also involve the completion of a research project or clinical practice.
Most states have some type of licensing, registration or certification requirement for medical physicists. Nationally recognized certifications are available from the American Board of Radiology (ABR) and the American Board of Medical Physics (ABMP). Texas, Florida and New York have licensing requirements for medical physicists, according to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine in June, 2014 (www.aapm.org). Other states may only require state registration or no requirements.
What Is the Employment Outlook?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicists held about 17,620 jobs in 2018. Job growth from 2018-2028 was expected to rise 9% for physicists. The BLS reported the best opportunities would come from retirement within the industry and within the fields of research and development.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
If your research interests lie in the computational side of medical physics, you might consider becoming a computer or information research scientist instead. These professionals develop new computing hardware and software tools that help address issues with network capacity, computer security and more. In most cases, a doctoral degree is required. Alternatively, you could look into a biomedical engineering career. Biomedical engineers work closely with medical scientists and related personnel to research biological systems, in turn using those findings to create new medical devices. While a bachelor's degree can lead to an entry-level career in the field, you won't be able to lead a research team without a graduate degree.