Careers in Medical Physics
There are many jobs for medical physicists in medical schools, hospitals, and clinics. Many medical physicists make a career as a consultant to hospitals and other users of their services. Such careers begin with a MS or PhD in physics, medical physics, or radiation biology. A job in medical physics is allied with, but not the same as, a job in medical electronics or bioengineering. Medical physics is the application of physics to medicine, but most jobs involve either diagnostic radiology or radiation therapy. Most medical physicists receive training through a residency traineeship or postdoctoral program of one or two years at a hospital. Their careers begin in earnest when they pass a certification examination given by the American Board of Radiology or the American Board of Medical Physics. The certification examinations are given in four subfields: therapeutic radiological physics, diagnostic radiological physics, medical nuclear physics, and medical health physics.
Approximately 85% of the jobs in medical physics involves some form of therapy, 10% are in diagnostic imaging, and 5% in nuclear medicine. A career in medical health physics is dedicated to the safe use of X-rays, gamma rays, electron and neutron beams, and sealed radionuclide sources. A job in health physics also includes conducting radiation surveys with the appropriate instrumentation. Only New York, Texas, Florida, and Hawaii require licensure to qualify for a medical physicist job at a hospital. The rest have no requirements or require only registration.
A job in diagnostic imaging requires helping improve the effectiveness of mammography, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound imaging, positron emission tomography, fluoroscopy, dual energy X-ray absorptiometry to measure bone density, and angiography. A job in radiation therapy means measuring and characterizing radiation, determining delivered dose, establishing adequate protocols to ensure accurate patient dosimetry, and collaborating with radiation oncologists to design treatment plans, and monitoring equipment and procedures to insure that cancer patients receive the prescribed dose of radiation to the correct location. A career in medical nuclear physics involves the therapeutic and diagnostic of radionuclides, not however, sealed sources of gamma rays, which fall under radiation therapy.
Many jobs involve teaching future medical physicists, resident physicians, medical students, and technologists who operate the various types of equipment used to perform diagnosis and treatment.