What is a Medical Physicist?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A medical physicist is a health care professional who applies medical physics to a variety of health-related fields and services. Medical physics is an applied type of physics that involves diagnosing and treating diseases.

Medical physicists works with radiotherapy and medical imaging.
Medical physicists works with radiotherapy and medical imaging.

Most of the fields that use medical physics involve radiotherapy and medical imaging. Health physicists ensure the patient's safety, as well as the proper functioning and development of treatments. Health physics may also be applied in conjunction with fields such as bioengineering, medical electronics, and health physics.

A medical physicist might maintain a linear accelerator used for radiation therapy.
A medical physicist might maintain a linear accelerator used for radiation therapy.

To become a medical physicist, one should have a background in general physics, followed by a master's or doctoral program of medical physics. Practical experience is also needed, typically in the form of a residency or a hospital postodoctoral program. Electronic and computer skills are also necessary for this career.

There are a number of work places for the medical physicist, considering that the profession primarily exists within three major areas of concentration. The first, clinical service and consultation, typically occurs within a hospital's oncology or other radiation department. This area includes planning radiation therapy services and treatments, measuring the amount of radiation needed for an exam, and quality and hazard control.

A health physicist involved with research and development might lead a team of medical researchers. Together they might conduct a number of research projects, including the testing of various computer and other technological programs, the development of new radiation measurement techniques, and the study of how the body reacts to radiation treatment, among other possibilities. These activities may be conducted within a hospital, research lab, or other medical locations.

Teaching is the third main area of concentration a medical physicist may choose to enter, taking place at either a college or university. At both graduate and undergraduate levels, a medical physicist may teach future technologists, medical students, resident physicians and fellow medical physicists in radiation processes. He or she may also teach courses on radiobiology and biophysics.

Medical physicist salaries vary depending upon a variety of factors including experience and job location. The most highly-paid medical physicist typically works for a private firm or practice. Medical physicists who work for the government, however, usually earn a lower income than their private sector counterparts.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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