Is a medical physicist a doctor?

Is a medical physicist a doctor?

No! Medical physicists are not doctors as their training is nowhere near what a doctor’s training is. However, most medical physicists hold either a Masters’s degree or a Ph.D. in physics. No wonder that with the job description of a medical physicist shows it’s a lot easier for one would confuse them for a doctor.

What Does A Medical Physicist Do? 

So, medical physicists normally use analytical skills along with applied scientific techniques to help both doctors and a plethora of healthcare workers to safely diagnose and offer the best treatment possible for patients. 

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

Who is a medical physicist?

The field of a medical physicist involves using analytical and applied scientific techniques to help medical staff diagnose and treat patients. Medical Physicists are also involved in research, as to try and find new ways to diagnose and tackle diseases.

There are other job titles for this role, that includes:

  • Biomedical physicist
  • Diagnostic and Interventional radiology physicist
  • Nuclear medicine physicist
  • Clinical scientist

What is the difference between a medical physicist and a medical doctor?

The difference between a medical physicist and a medical doctor is their training and practice. A medical doctor who specialises in radiology can become a qualified medical doctor in the area of radiology while medical physicist does not have to qualify as a doctor, instead, he/she will specialize in radiology analytics and applied science that allow them to become incharge of radiation protection, quality control, dosimetry, training, and many other areas of support to the health practitioners including doctors who plan and approve treatments for patients. Think of your local Medical Physicist as someone who is likely to fall under any of these three groups: 

  1. Diagnostic Radiology: Medical Physicists who run and analyse diagnostics equipment for doctors and healthcare staff members. 
  2. Nuclear Medicine Physicists: Medical physicists who work along with Nuclear Medicine doctors to diagnose and administer nuclear treatments safely.  
  3. Radiation oncology: Medical Physicists who work along with diagnostics equipment to detect what is wrong with you and I,using radiology and imaging techniques.

As you can see, there’s so many career options and if you come across these professionals, don’t ever get confused when one of these titles is used, just know it’s referring to a medical physicist.

Medical physicists use a number of analytical, computer-aided and bioengineering techniques in their work such as radiotherapy, x-ray imaging, ultrasound, radiology, and lasers. They do this by making use of the concepts, theories and methodologies of physics together with engineering and technology skills to the treatment of disease and work with a range of medical staff, usually in hospitals, clinics and research facilities.

 This field is broad and it ranges across a number of specialisms including diagnostic and interventional radiology (also known as medical imaging), nuclear medicine, and radiation oncology (also known as radiotherapy) and clinical physiology. Medical Physicists also work on a variety of research projects, including the applications of digital computers in medicine and applications of information theory to diagnostic problems; processing, storing and retrieving medical images.

Duties and responsibilities of Medical Physicist

The duties and responsibilities below depend on the area in which you work:

  • Medical Physicist commission, assess and make sure that there is safe operation of specialist equipment used by medical staff in areas fields as radiotherapy, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, laser technology and physiological monitoring
  • Plan and supervise radiotherapy treatment in discussion with medical and other staff.
  • They also talk with patients to let them know treatment procedures and possible side effects of the treatment
  • They also play a vital role in liaising closely with doctors to make an addition of technical results to patient reports.
  • Come in to negotiate and agree changes to patient diagnosis techniques, mostly in response to new procedures.
  • Process complex patient image data.
  • They help in clinical trials as well.
  • Medical Physicists also help in coming up with techniques to reveal what’s happening in the body using X-ray, MRI, laser, ultrasound and ultraviolet technologies.
  • Medical physicists also research new equipment developments and techniques, review existing local practice, give advice on procurement of the new equipment and compile reports to initiate changes. 
  • Play major role in overseeing the quality control of equipment to make sure that correct and consistent results or outputs are attained and ensure that ongoing maintenance routines are followed
  • Train and advise medical physics technicians on new equipment and protocols
  • Lecture and train other health professionals, including radiographers, nurses and doctors, in clinical practice
  • Draft and develop policies for operating equipment.
  • They also involve themselves in making audit visits to hospital departments to see if they are in compliance with health and safety legislation.

Working Environment And Lifestyle

Most medical physicists usually work in clean, well-lighted laboratories and classrooms in hospitals and universities. Their job requires them to have such a working environment. At times, they can conduct research on their own or do it as a team of several members. 

As a medical physicist, it is very important that they be able to portray their ideas to doctors, students, and sometimes patients both orally and in writing effectively and in a way that is easily understood by the audience.

 If we are to talk of hours they work pay per, well, they generally work 37.5 to 40hrs per week. Extra hours are a possibility and are essential in terms of emergencies and special projects. 

This job is dynamic and medical physicists have to stay up to date hence they are required to give some additional hours to the cause of studying the latest developments in the field.

Just a little insight in this field, medical physicists in the US held about 130,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of medical scientists were as follows:

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences took about 34% of the total.
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private engulfed about 24%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private managed to get 18%
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing had about 6%

Workload Overview

In addition to medical physicist working in medical physics, they may also find themselves working in: private hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, helping to design and develop medical equipment

nuclear medicine companies, working to protect the workforce and local environment from radiation exposure,

regulatory authorities that is

national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness

universities and research organisations and finally research and development laboratories.

Skills Required

Medical physicists usually are not mere people, they most of the times have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Creating interest areas. The Building interest area shows a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. 

The Thinking interest area shows a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area shows another amazing part and focuses on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

Apart from the qualifications, it is a must that medical physicists have the following skills:

Communication skills. This is a very important aspect as medical physicists must be able to explain their conclusions so that the audience easily understands it. Furthermore, medical physicists write grant proposals, which are usually required to continue their research.

Critical-thinking skills. Medical physicists are required to be great thinkers as they must use their knowledge to determine the best method for solving a specific research question.

Data-analysis skills. Medical physicists use statistical techniques. This helps them in a way that they can properly quantify and analyze health research questions.

Decision-making skills. Medical physicists must use their knowledge and experience to determine what research questions to ask, how best to investigate the questions, and what data will best answer the questions given.

Observation skills. Medical physicists conduct experiments that require precise and accurate observation of samples and other health data. Any mistake could lead to incomplete and misleading results.

In addition to the skills above, medical physicists also need to: have an interest in healthcare and the functions of the human body, must also have:

  • The ability to work independently, 
  • Laboratory and management skills
  • Meticulous attention to detail, 
  • A medical physicist must also be a self-motivated and confident approach,
  • Ability to acquire the most from training placements in busy hospital departments, 
  • Must also be flexible and  have a willingness to keep up to date with the latest scientific and medical research in this field.
  •  Finally, a medical physicist needs to have the ability to solve problems and research alternative solutions to the problems.

Salary and Potential earnings

Medical Physicists in the United States make an average salary of $116,081 per year or $55.81 per hour. People on the lower end of that spectrum, the bottom 10% to be exact, make roughly $69,000 a year, while the top 10% makes $193,000.

 If you like following the crowd, Health Care and Education companies  usually attract the most employees in this field. 

If one is in it for the money, then one would want to seek out Non Profits, Education, and Health Care companies, as employees in each industry have reported the highest salaries. 

As most things go, location can be critical. New Mexico, Arkansas, Maryland, Vermont, and Minnesota provide the highest Medical Physicist salaries. 

In the United Kingdom, Trainee medical physicists are usually employed at Band 6, starting at £28,050.

Once they are qualified, they are usually employed on Band 7 (£33,222 to £43,041).

But Salaries for principal and consultant scientists range from £42,414 (Band 8) to £102,506 (Band 9), depending on your experience and training.

Those working in London and the surrounding areas may receive a high-cost area supplement of between 5% and 20% of their basic salary.

Salary levels for medical scientists may vary depending on where they work, be it in private companies, universities, government bodies and other organisations.

Medical Physicist Career Outlook

Upgrading opportunities are good for medical physicists with doctorates. If the medical physicist is working in hospitals and research centers, they can further develop their career by taking on more responsibility and heading project teams. Those in lecturing positions can rise from assistant professor to full professor.

It is projected that the employment of physicists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, predicted to grow at a percentage of 8 percent every two years. 

This is because more doctorates are being granted but there are a few openings for medical physicists, so competition for jobs may be stiff. However, new positions may be created because the aging population may need an increasing number of diagnostic tests. Openings occur at intervals when experienced workers retire or leave the field, which sounds like a long time to wait.

In addition to that, you can advance your career by gaining experience or taking additional training, such as through relevant specialised postgraduate research, or a mixture of both. You may need to move to other hospitals to make the most of opportunities.

After attaining several years of experience and further training, you can further advance your career by applying for principal scientist or consultant scientist posts in either a clinical or management role. 

A consultant role in management is likely to involve the management of a large department or major departmental section, hence that’s when leadership skills come into play to aid you in managing the staff and everything concerning the department, with responsibility for areas such as operational management, clinical and technical expertise and administration.

One can also choose to move into a job in research either in academia or industry.

What qualifications do you need to be a medical physicist?

To practice as a medical physicist you need a university degree or a Postgraduate qualification with a major in physics and maths. However entry requirements of a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent are needed for study in the United Kingdom. Overall,  English, maths and science or equivalent, including physics is what you need to enter a degree study program in the USA, Canada, Australia and Newzealand.

For those interested in becoming a medical physicist, you are required to have a good degree in physics, applied science, computation, mathematics or engineering. However, for positions with the NHS, each NHS trust decides which degrees are relevant. A postgraduate qualification can be beneficial.

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

If you have plans of working within the NHS, you will need to complete the scientist training programme (STP) after getting your degree qualification. The application process for the STP usually starts in January.

For example, Scotland has separate training schemes, which usually 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 medical physicist in the UK, you must be registered with the HCPC. After that, 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 registration fee, which is reduced by 50% if you graduated from an approved course within the last two years.

In other news, professional training on the job is normally provided for successful candidates. Membership of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine may be beneficial.

Once qualified, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in scientific and medical research, as well as building on your laboratory and management skills as to be a very good medical physicist and sell yourself on the market more. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part and it includes:

  • Attending conferences, workshops and lectures
  • Publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • Presenting research and papers at conferences
  • Undertaking work exchanges abroad
  • Applying for research grants.

A programme of conference, study days and workshops is offered by the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM). Members can also access online training resources.

Once you’ve got experience, you can train to become a consultant clinical scientist via the Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme. This five-year, workplace-based training programme includes study at Doctorate level and, where appropriate, study for Medical Royal College qualifications such as fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists.

This education insight has been based on the type of education in the United Kingdom but it’s not way different from how the education is provided in other countries providing education for Medical Physicists.

What To Expect

The job is usually mainly hospital-based and may involve working in different hospital departments, laboratories, clinics or in theatre with patients.

In addition to that, Vacancies are available from time to time throughout the country, both for trainees and for more experienced practitioners. However, you may need to be geographically flexible to progress your career as opportunities might arise elsewhere from your settlement.

Wearing protective clothing when working with hazardous substances and radiation is a must.

Sometimes if working in an organization like NHS in the UK, you may be required to travel between hospitals and to meetings with regional specialists and for training courses.

If you’re working for a commercial company, for example, a healthcare equipment manufacturer, you’re likely to travel more frequently. There are some opportunities to work overseas.


Now in short, If you have a degree in physics and have the urge to be involved in the latest medical technology, consider taking further training to become a medical physics clinical scientist or in other words, a medical physicist.

A medical physicist working in medical physics, conducts research, develops test and maintain specialist equipment used to help prevent, diagnose and treat many kinds of diseases and health conditions.

At some point where you find yourself working closely with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and radiotherapists, a medical physicist is likely to play a central role in developing, planning and implementing patient treatment programmes.

There are also cases where you will be required to help to protect patients and healthcare staff from hazards such as radiation.

Medical physicists play a very important and often leading role on the medical research team. Their activities cover a wide range of frontiers, including such key areas as cancer, heart disease, and mental illness. 

Medical physicists also design radiation installations for hospitals and ensure that the complex equipment functions properly. They are responsible for precautions against the hazards of radiation.

Many medical physicists are involved in the research and design of new medical equipment. They work on new applications for high-energy machines, such as linear accelerators to treat cancer.

Diagnostic imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging, is constantly being improved. Medical physicists are also developing new imaging procedures using infrared and ultrasound sources.

At many teaching hospitals, they are faculty members who instruct future medical physicists, medical students, and radiographic technologists. In colleges and universities they may teach medical physics, biophysics, and radiobiology to graduate and undergraduate students.

This is definitely a career to pursue and if is qualified and plans to get a job the best sources for information about job openings are college professors, advisers, and placement offices because they usually have contacts in the medical industry.

Graduates can also apply directly to hospitals, universities, and government agencies. Professional associations and journals often list job openings.

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