How Do I Become a Medical Physicist?

If you have an interest in the field of healthcare and medicine and enjoy the science of physics, you may be wondering how to become a medical physicist. Medical physicists are primarily concerned with the use of radiation in healthcare. They conduct medical research and consult with physicians that care for patients receiving radiation for diagnostic or treatment reasons. Prominent subfields of medical physics include diagnostic, nuclear, therapeutic and medical health physics. Medical physicists also devote time to educating students. A medical physicist differs from other types of physicists in that they apply their expertise in physics concepts, methods and theories specifically to issues within the healthcare field.

Medical physics encompasses a variety of subfields which generally involve radiation. In diagnostic medical physics, the medical physicist’s goal is to improve the quality of diagnostic imaging systems such as X-rays. Medical physicists in this field may invent new technologies and scrutinize the safety of new and existing diagnostic imaging systems. Nuclear medical physics involves the use of radionuclides, or radioactive materials, within the body for diagnosis and treatment. Nuclear medical physicists are responsible for developing this technology and monitoring the process. A therapeutic medical physicist specializes in creating the radiation technology that physicians use to treat cancer. Medical health physicists are concerned with the health and safety effects of exposure to radiation on doctors, nurses, technicians and others who are not radiation patients.

Though formal education programs for medical physics exist at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) requires that aspiring medical physicists earn at least a master’s degree in physics, medical physics, biophysics, radiological physics or a related topic to be considered a Qualified Medical Physicist. Advanced education, including Ph.D. programs, internships and residencies, offer more career opportunities. Coursework in an accredited medical physics program may include specialized courses in medical physics as well as anatomy, biology, physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, electronics, mathematics and statistics.

In addition to pursuing a degree from an accredited school, aspiring medical physicists must obtain appropriate certification through an association such as the American Board of Radiology, the American Board of Medical Physics, the American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine or the American Board of Health Physics. Aside from a solid comprehension of the concepts, theories and methods of physics, medical physicists should be able to work well with others. In clinical work, medical physicists frequently work with patients, radiation oncologists, therapists and nurses. They also interact regularly with their colleagues on research teams.

Careers in all disciplines of physics are expected to grow approximately 14 percent by 2020, which is equal to the average rate of growth for all occupations, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Medical physicists earn a rewarding salary and get the satisfaction of helping people. If you are considering this job, knowing how to become a medical physicist is your first step toward beginning a worthwhile new career.

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