Medical physicist: job description

Medical physicists use analytical and applied scientific techniques to assist healthcare workers in the safe diagnosis and treatment of patients.

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Medical physicists aren't trained in the same way as doctors, but they collaborate with doctors to assess and treat illness.

What does a medical physicist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Medical physicists use a variety of analytical, computer-aided and bioengineering techniques in their work such as radiotherapy, x-ray imaging, ultrasound, tomography, radiology, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and lasers.

They work with patients and with a wide range of medical, technical and administrative staff.

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • researching, developing and evaluating new analytical techniques
  • planning and ensuring safe and accurate treatment of patients
  • creating new systems to investigate medical conditions in patients
  • providing advice about radiation protection
  • training and updating healthcare, scientific and technical staff
  • managing radiotherapy quality assurance programmes
  • mathematical modelling
  • maintaining equipment
  • writing reports
  • teaching
  • laboratory management

Typical employers of medical physicists

  • Hospitals
  • Universities
  • Research organisations
  • Diagnostic or medical instrumentation manufacturers

There are good prospects for promotion within the public sector as the NHS operates a structured career path and salary scale.

Vacancies are advertised by the Institute of Physics and Engineering, and in scientific journals such as New Scientist , plus their respective websites.

The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.

Qualifications and training required

To become a medical physicist a good degree in physics, applied science, computation, mathematics or engineering is necessary. However, for positions with the NHS, each NHS trust decides which degrees are relevant. A postgraduate qualification can be beneficial. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

Research work, hospital laboratory placements and/or relevant experience gained using similar scientific and analytical techniques can also be useful.

To work within the NHS, you will need to complete the scientist training programme (STP) after your degree. The application process for the STP typically starts in January.

Scotland has separate training schemes, which also involve a three-year STP or an equivalent programme.

After completing the STP, you can then apply for a certificate of attainment from the Academy of Healthcare Science. This is will enable you to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

In order to practice as a clinical scientist in the UK, you must be registered with the HCPC. You will automatically be eligible to apply for registration if you have completed an HCPC approved course, but you will need to pay a fee for the HCPC to process your application, plus a small registration fee, which is reduced by 50% for the first two years of registration.

Professional training on the job is normally provided for successful candidates. Membership of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine may be beneficial.

Key skills for medical physicists

  • A logical and inquisitive mind
  • Excellent IT skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Good team working abilities
  • Research skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication

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