What Does a Medical Radiation Physicist Do?

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  • Written By: Amy Rodriguez
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 February 2020
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A medical radiation physicist researches and implements radioactive material within devices for treating patient ailments, such as cancers. These workers improve current radiation technology, as well as create innovative alternatives. Additionally, a medical radiation physicist also works with technicians for safe use and maintenance of the radioactive devices, including X-ray machines.

Radioactive materials, in the correct quantity, can help patients improve their chances at life by placing cancerous tumors into remission. The medical radiation physicist must apply his or her scientific background by experimenting with different radioactive material ratios; properly calculated radiation levels help a patient, while incorrect or excessive levels can easily injure or cause death to a patient.

The delivery of the radiation to the patient is another factor for the medical radiation physicist to consider. These scientists must create a comfortable treatment position for the patient, such as lying down or sitting in a chair. Radiation must be able to cover the person entirely, or only a certain area, depending on the patient's overall condition. Physicists must optimize the best treatment while keeping the human element of comfort as a main consideration.


As technology continues to improve, new devices and treatment options become viable; the medical radiation physicist must be able to alter current machines and create new forms of radiation devices to help more patients. A new radioactive mixture may be available as an alternative to current materials. Physicists must experiment with the new alternative; he or she will determine if it is compatible for widespread use or only for particular treatment needs.

Radiation is also used in a number of other applications, like the common X-ray. Physicists will work with X-ray technicians to ensure that they understand the amount of radiation needed to make a clear image for physicians to examine. In addition, the medical radiation physicist will give technicians their safety parameters while operating the X-ray machine. For example, the technician may be instructed to stay behind a thick wall during X-ray operation to avoid constant radiation exposure.

Along with individual instruction, the physicist may give lectures to a group of technicians and other personnel regarding safe radiation levels. Additionally, the physicists will also update all personnel each time any safety parameter changes, such as standing 6 feet (1.88 meters) away from a radiation machine as opposed to 4 feet (1.21 meters). Each worker should be aware of the dangers of excessive radiation and its affects on the human body; employees that work for many years in the medical industry can be susceptible to radiation poisoning if safety parameters are not followed.


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