Many of the complex instruments and techniques used in modern medicine were developed by medical physicists. With doctors, medical physicists are closely involved in assessing and treating illness and disability.
They also have a role in protecting patients and healthcare workers from potential hazards, including radiation.
As a medical physicist, you could work in one of the many different health areas within the healthcare system. Most typically, you would be working in a hospital and be involved with the commissioning, calibration, safe operation and maintenance of systems used for looking at or measuring what is happening in the body, for example those using x-rays, ultrasound, light in various frequencies; laser Doppler blood flow measurement; magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear medicine.
You might work with new therapies such as ultraviolet radiation or photostimulated cytotoxin or carry out mathematical modelling of pressure, temperature, flow and perfusion, or design transducers and electronic systems.
Many medical physicists are involved in radiotherapy. They need to supervise the dose of radiation needed to treat a cancer patient and will be involved in planning complex treatment for individual patients using a linear accelarator.
However you can work in medical physics in industry or a university too. These jobs are different as you can image. In industry you will typically work in research and development but sometimes in sales or management . University careers are normally research focused but will include some teaching as well. They normally do not involve any patient contact.
As you will probably be involved both in research and in working closely with patients, you will need to be able to commumicate well with patients, technical and administration staff, and with other healthcare professionals. You must also keep up with the latest scientific and medical research in your field and develop your laboratory and management skills.
How to become a Medical Physicist
The most standard route into woking as a registered medical physicist is as follows:
- Take at least 3 A Levels, including maths and physics, and preferably, another science and get good grades.
- Take an honours degree in physics, and aim to get at least a 2:1.
- Apply for a place on the Healthcare Scientist Training Scheme (STP) for Medical Physicists and Clinical Engineers, which is funded by the Department of Health, where you will take an MSc degree over three years and receive vocational training in a hospital department. More information about this training scheme and how to apply can be found on the National School for Healthcare Science website
For non standard routes into medical physics and for alternatives to working in the NHS you can look at our Careers FAQ page.