Healthcare policy professionals predict an 18% growth in healthcare jobs from 2016 to 2026 due to both general population growth and an increase in the number of aging citizens requiring additional medical services. This growth includes careers in medical physics as medical technology continues to advance and improve ways to image and diagnose medical problems, as well as to treat diseases using a variety of radiation modalities.
A list of career options in medical physics and related professions is provided below.
Careers in Medical Physics
- Medical Physicist (MP)
Medical physicists play a key role in clinical operations, research, and also the education of faculty, staff and trainees.
- Diagnostic/Nuclear Medical Physics
Medical physicists are needed in radiology to track imaging dose and ensure the best images are acquired with the lowest amount of radiation possible. They also work with radiologists to devise new technologies, methods, and procedures for improving imaging capabilities, thereby enhancing the early detection of disease and the assessment of functional changes in a patient. Graduate education in physics, engineering, or a related field is required.
- Therapeutic Medical Physics
A medical physicist specializing in radiation therapy works to ensure the correct amount of radiation is delivered to the cancer tumor as prescribed by the radiation oncologist. They carry out measurements, calibrate equipment, perform quality assurance checks, and assist in the development of clinical procedures. Graduate education in physics, engineering, or a related field is required.
- Diagnostic/Nuclear Medical Physics
- Health Physicist/Radiation Safety Officer
A health physicist is responsible for ensuring that medical procedures using radiation will not expose the general public or radiation workers beyond safety limits set by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or state health agency. A master of science (MS) degree in physics, engineering, or other related field is required.
A dosimetrist works under the direction of a radiation oncologist (RO) and medical physicist (MP) to develop customized radiation treatment plans using computer-based planning systems. A bachelor of science (BS) degree from an accredited dosimetry program is required.
- Equipment Service Engineer
An equipment service engineer is specially trained to troubleshoot and repair medical equipment. This includes equipment used for medical imaging and equipment associated with the delivery of radiation therapy.
- Radiation Oncologist
A radiation oncologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in the use of radiation to treat diseases. They create treatment strategies that prescribe the right amount of radiation needed to treat cancer and benign diseases, minimize secondary side effects, and keep the patient as comfortable as possible during treatment. An MD degree is required.
- Radiation Oncology Nurse
A radiation oncology nurse assists the radiation oncologist in managing and monitoring the care of patients undergoing radiation therapy. They provide healthcare support for managing adverse radiation side effects in order to keep patients as comfortable as possible.
- Radiation Therapist/Radiation Technologist
A radiation therapist or technologist works directly with patients. This includes imaging the patient with a CT scanner, MRI scanner, or ultrasound; and positioning and treating patients with radiation therapy. An associate’s degree (AA/AS) is required from an accredited training program.
A radiologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in reviewing images acquired by x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, and/or ultrasound imaging to identify and describe abnormalities. The radiologist helps the primary care physician and specialists to determine the best treatment options needed to correct a medical problem. An MD degree is required.
The future of radiation oncology and radiology depends on advancements in the areas of radiation biology, equipment systems (to better detect, diagnose, and image tumors as well as localize and deliver radiation to the tumor), and computer science/medical informatics. Many of these career paths exist in an academic or industry environment. These professions generally require graduate degrees with many requiring a PhD degree. Researchers in radiation oncology and radiology can come from a wide range of different backgrounds. This includes many medical physicists who are deeply involved in medical research.
- SDAMPP Student Guide to a Medical Physics Career
The Society of Directors of Academic Medical Physics Programs (SDAMPP), 2016
- Academic Program Recommendations for Graduate Degrees in Medical Physics
AAPM Report #197, 2009
- Essentials and Guidelines for Clinical Medical Physics Residency Training Programs
AAPM Report #249, 2013
- The Essential Medical Physics Didactic Elements for Physicists Entering the Profession Through an Alternative Pathway
AAPM Report #197S, 2011
- Alternative Clinical Medical Physics Training Pathways for Medical Physicists
AAPM Report#133, 2008