Medical physics is a branch of physics that applies physics to treating medical conditions. It is associated with medical electronics, bioengineering and health physics. Medical physicists focus their work on dealing with radiological techniques. They improve imaging techniques, develop new ones, improve radiation safety protocols, design treatment plans with radiological oncologists and assure that patients receive the proper dose of radiation during treatments.
Education and Qualifications
You can usually secure a junior medical physicist position with a master’s degree, but you need a Ph.D. to become a medical physicist. Medical physicists should be certified in their subfield by the appropriate organization over that subfield. The American Board of Medical Physics, the American Board of Radiology, the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine or the American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine all offer certifications for medical physicists.
There are between 3,000 and 4,000 medical physicists working in the United States, with a need for about 300 more each year, according to Duke University. Also, more than half of the working medical physicists are nearing retirement age and will need to be replaced. These two factors will most likely combine to create a shortage of medical physicists and a demand for new ones.
According to Salary Experts.com, the median salary for a medical physicist with less than a year of experience is around $50,000 a year. With 1 to 4 years of experience, the median salary increases to around $100,000 a year. The American Association of Physicists in Medicine conducts an annual survey of salaries for its members. In the 2007 study, the median salary for a medical physicist without board certification was $115,000 (master’s degree) and $124,000 (Ph.D.). With board certification, the median salary rose to $162,200 (master’s degree) and $175,000 (Ph.D.).
Where Jobs Are
Most of the medical physicist jobs (85 percent) are in a field of therapy, according to Duke University. The rest of the jobs are split between diagnostic imaging (10 percent) and nuclear medicine (5 percent). Jobs can be found at medical schools, hospitals and clinics. However, New York, Texas, Florida and Hawaii require medical physicists to have a state license in order to work in a hospital.