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Medical physics opens doors to many types of career paths: one can find research and development work in industry or government, or teach and conduct research in academia, or pursue the clinical track. The biomedical tech industry also offers opportunities for entrepreneurship.
A medical physicist in government or industry typically works on:
An academic medical physicist has the following responsibilities:
Typical activities for clinical physicists include:
In general, a BS in physics or related discipline, followed by an MS or PhD in medical physics is preferred. Graduate training in a related field is also acceptable, but specific jobs may require relevant experience, such as that in nuclear or MRI physics.
Someone pursuing an industry or government job will need an MS or PhD in medical physics or a related field, such as nuclear physics or biophysics. For academic faculty positions a PhD is often required, and a postdoc may be needed before obtaining a permanent position.
For a clinical career as a medical physicist in the US or Canada, either an MS or a PhD should be pursued at a CAMPEP-approved graduate program. Other countries may have different requirements.
Following the MS (or PhD), a 2-year CAMPEP-accredited residency is required for most clinical positions in the US or Canada. Clinical career paths also require board certification, such as from the American Board of Radiology (ABR), the American Board of Medical Physics (ABMP), the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine (CCPM), or from other similar organizations.
Additional skills that may help advance one’s career as a medical physicist in any employment sector include: good communication, critical thinking, advanced math, electronics, analytical and problem solving skills. Volunteering at a hospital or interning with a clinical lab can also be beneficial.
For more information, see the American Association of Physicists in Medicine website
Industry and Government path: Following the BS degree, one may become a technician at a company or national lab. After some experience and depending on the person’s preference, they may pursue a management role. Following an MS or PhD degree, the person would start in a research and development role, and can then pursue a management position after 5-10 years. Depending on their preference, the medical physicist may choose to take on business activities, such as monitoring profit/loss for a company. Some medical physicists also choose to become independent consultants or entrepreneurs.
Academic path: The career path usually consists of pursuing a postdoctoral position after obtaining a PhD in medical physics or related field, followed by a professorship. The path to advancement in a faculty appointment goes from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. Some academic medical physicists may become department chairs or find other leadership roles at their institution or within a professional organization.
Clinical path: After completing residency, a junior medical physicist will complete certification to become a board certified clinical physicist. After 5+ years, it is possible to move into a leadership role as a senior physicist at a hospital or clinic with financial and personnel management responsibilities.
Note on other career paths: Medical physics, similarly to any science degree, also opens doors to becoming an editor for a research journal or a science writer. Additional opportunities include working for a non-profit or a foundation, such as the National Foundation for Cancer Research.
Note on switching between sectors: As there is a lot of overlap between conducting academic research and developing technologies, it is easier for medical physicists, than those in other physics subdisciplines, to horizontally move between an academic or industry career. Also, career moves between academic or industrial and clinical positions are common.
APS April Meeting 2021: Panel on Medical Physics Careers
Why Now is the Time to Join Medical Physics
MS or PhD in medical physics or related field
Clinical physics: Residency, CAMPEP and Board certification for US/Canada.
Academic Medical Physics: Postdoctoral training
Starting: $80K - $130K
$180K - $250K
Medical physics is a highly rewarding career with employment opportunities in academia, industry, clinical and government sectors. There is ample demand for medical physicists in each sector.
Christina uses physics everyday to make sure that veterans receive quality cancer radiation treatments.
A former hardware engineer, December manages projects in the biomedical technology industry to produce medical devices.
Julie, a clinical medical physicist, researcher, and professor, helps treat cancer patients with thoracic tumors.
Kathy's work in radiation detection at national labs gave her the physics background that assists her as a subject matter expert for the US Government.