Education and Training: Advanced degree
Salary: Median—$124,532 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Medical physicists apply the principles and theories of physics to all aspects of medicine. In hospitals, they help plan radiation treatments for cancer patients using external radiation beams or internal radioactive sources. They provide images of internal organs and determine metabolic rates and blood flow. The images provide physicians with important information that allows them to diagnose illness.
Medical physicists also design radiation installations for hospitals and ensure that the complex equipment functions properly. They are responsible for precautions against the hazards of radiation.
Many medical physicists are involved in the research and design of new medical equipment. They work on new applications for high-energy machines, such as linear accelerators to treat cancer. Diagnostic imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging, is constantly being improved. Medical physicists are also developing new imaging procedures using infrared and ultrasound sources.
At many teaching hospitals, they are faculty members who instruct future medical physicists, medical students, and radiographic technologists. In colleges and universities they may teach medical physics, biophysics, and radiobiology to graduate and undergraduate students.
Education and Training Requirements
Graduate training in medical physics is required for all jobs in this field; most medical physicists have doctorates. Knowledge of physics and basic medical sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, genetics, and biochemistry, is essential.
Getting the Job
The best sources for information about job openings are college professors, advisers, and placement offices because they usually have contacts in the medical industry. Graduates can also apply directly to hospitals, universities, and government agencies. Professional associations and journals often list job openings.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement opportunities are good for medical physicists with doctorates. In hospitals and research centers, they can advance by taking on more responsibility and heading project teams. Those in teaching positions can move through the ranks from assistant professor to full professor.
Employment of physicists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. More doctorates are being granted than there are openings for medical physicists, so competition for jobs may be stiff. However, new positions may be created because the aging population may need an increasing number of diagnostic tests. Openings regularly occur when experienced workers retire or leave the field.
Most medical physicists work in clean, well-lighted laboratories and classrooms in hospitals and universities. They may conduct research independently or as members of teams. They must be able to communicate their ideas to doctors, students, and sometimes patients both orally and in writing. While they generally work forty-hour weeks, overtime may be necessary for emergencies and special projects. They spend additional hours studying the latest developments in the field.
Where to Go for More Information
American Association of Physicists in Medicine
1 Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740-3846
American College of Medical Physics
12100 Sunset Hills Rd., Ste. 130
Reston, VA 20190-5202
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for medical physicists are similar to those of other physicists. In 2006 the median salary for experienced medical physicists with advanced degrees was $124,532 per year. Benefits usually include health insurance, paid vacations and sick leave, and retirement plans.