What is a medical physicist?
To ensure diseases are diagnosed, treated and prevented as quickly as possible, sophisticated medical equipment and procedures are necessary. Medical physicists work to design, develop and test such apparatus, using their specialised knowledge of physics and medicine. Their work helps to increase the survival rates for various diseases, by ensuring fast diagnosis and treatment.
What are the typical responsibilities of a medical physicist?
As a medical physicist, you’ll use a number of different technologies like radiotherapy, x-ray imaging, ultrasounds and lasers. Typical responsibilities include: researching, developing and evaluating new technical procedures, ensuring all equipment and systems are working correctly, explaining to patients complex technical procedures, and liaising with healthcare staff.
Meanwhile, the dangers associated with radiotherapy means that they also provide advice about radiation protection, and managing radiotherapy quality assurance programmes. The innovative nature of the field means that they have to keep on top of developments and new procedures within the field.
Where are medical physicists typically employed?
The biggest employer of medical physicists is the NHS. However, they are also employed by healthcare equipment manufacturers, academic institutions, research laboratories and regulatory bodies. Their expertise in radiation protections also means that they are employed by organisations who handle nuclear energy or radioactive material.
A career in non-NHS establishments (universities, regulatory bodies) means that you’ll typically have a regular nine-to-five, five days a week schedule. However, those working in the NHS or in private healthcare often rotational shifts, which often involve late hours, weekend and holiday shifts.
How can I become a medical physicist?
If you’re interested in attending university, you'll have a degree in physics, although physics-related degrees are accepted. You can boost your chances of admission if you have a proven interest in medicine, for instance if you completed work experience in the sector and/or are up to date with recent developments. After this, you can apply to a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme, a three-year work-based learning programme.You'll be employed by an NHS trust and will gain experience in a range of sectors in your first year, before getting the opportunity to specialise. Trainees also study for a university accredited master's degree.
Looking at alternative routes, there’s the option to complete a Level 6 (undergraduate degree) Healthcare Science Practitioner degree apprenticeship. This is a three-year programme which covers broad based science, with the opportunity to specialise in medical physics in your third year. It combines work-based learning and time at university, so you’ll receive an income and have your university fees paid for.
Furthermore, similar to the NHS Scientist Training Programme, the NHS offers a Practitioner Training Programme, except you don't need a degree to apply. It's a work-based training programme, during which you'll study for a healthcare science degree. Afterwards, you can specialise in medical physics.