1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is medical physics a good career option?

  1. Mar 1, 2015 #1
    I am thinking about a PhD in medical physics after I finish my undergraduate physics degree. However I keep seeing negative things about the job market for this degree. Does anyone have any info on the future job market for this degree. thanks ahead of time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 1, 2015 #2
    Job markets are local. You don't even say which continent you are from.

    But the thing about medical is, in a prosperous country, every hospital that has a MRI or CT means there is a possible job opportunity, wheres research labs in high energy physics or nanotechnology or optics, aren't dotted all over the countryside.
  4. Mar 1, 2015 #3
    Sorry. I am in the USA. Specifically I live in Houston, Texas. The medical industry is huge here.
  5. Mar 1, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Hi Blakeab,

    I'm a medical physicist. I put up a few posts about this on my blog a couple weeks ago.
    So You Want to Be a Medical Physicist
    (hopefully ZapperZ will forgive any infringement on the title of his essay).

    The TL;DR version:
    • long-term the prospects for a career in medical physics are very good
    • short-term there are issues in the field in that there are not enough residencies for everyone who graduates from the accredited programs
    • I don't know at what date short-term will become long term
  6. Mar 1, 2015 #5
    Thanks! Your blog posts were very helpful. It is nice to hear from someone in the profession. I like that there are things being done to increase the number of accredited residencies. Your posts helped me reinforce my desire to become a medical physicist. I am still looking at other options due to my wants/needs. How fast paced is the day to day work of a medical physicist? One reason I was looking at this option was for the hope of it being somewhat fast paced at times. I seek out high stress/pressure situations. They always make me perform better.
  7. Mar 1, 2015 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Stress-load is something that's subjective, but generally in medical physics I would rate it as high.

    I wouldn't say that clinical medical physics comes with the same kind of urgency you might see in the ER, for example. I can't think of any examples in my career where I've been faced with a "solve this in the next twenty minutes or the patient dies" type of scenario. But there certainly are many times where I've been faced with "this problem is preventing us from treating any patients on the unit, solve it in the next hour/afternoon/by the morning or we have to move to contingency plans" or "hmm that's funny, we have no idea why this error message came up/why the plan looks funny/why this measurement failed/why an image didn't come up etc. - quantify the risks involved in proceeding with treatment."

    There certainly are times when the pace gets fast, but as much as possible we try to engineer them out of the process. High stress, high pressure, and a fast pace in the clinic all correlate with increased errors. Ideally, you want to solve problems systematically and well ahead of time, not while there's a patient all set up and waiting for treatment.

    It may not be the career for you if you're looking for an adrenaline rush from the pace of the work. The stress arises more from the slow grind, from forcing yourself to stay for another hour after you've been scanning all weekend just to make sure your data is consistent with last year, from going through lists of settings to make sure your latest software upgrade won't affect anything, etc.
  8. Mar 1, 2015 #7
    Your right about it being subjective. I didnt mean I needed an adrenaline rush from my work. Just something to keep me engaged in my work. I also don't need it all the time. You have made it sound like something I will enjoy.
  9. Mar 13, 2015 #8
    I am a retired medical physicist. If you choose this career path and have the correct skills and attitude you will find it very rewarding. Choppy described the technical aspects and challenges of this field. However to be successful in the broadest terms and often not talked about very much is that you must fit into the team. My observation are for a small medical physics practice in a community hospital related situation but may apply to other situations as a stand alone private clinic.

    You will be working with physicians both in radiology and radiotherapy as well as other specialties depending on you departments program. You may find this challenging You may not have as much control as you would like. Although your work and contribution is critical to the medical outcome you may be taking a back seat in the day to day operations of the department. You will also be working closely with the clinical staff including the technologist, nurses, and administrators. You will periodically have to deal with government regulators. If you do not establish a good rapport with your clinical colleagues you may introduce significantly more stress that you need. In one position i took I was requested be provide references form a technologist, nurse and administrative person I had worked with. because the previous physicist did not understand how to fit in.

    I might add that communication skills both writing and verbal are also important. You may also have responsibilities in radiation safety and several areas of radiology which will take you all over a hospital. You should have a meticulous streak and be obsessive about you work. If something goes wrong it can do so in a big way. You must make yourself available and not hide away win your office or lab. Keep abreast of what is going on. Demonstrate interest in the treatment process. Actively, but unobtrusively monitor the treatment process You will have to learn to manage your position so as not to be overwhelmed by your responsibilities. The hours are often irregular and can be long. Administrators especially do not usually appreciate the responsibilities of a medical physicist.. With all that you usually are among the highest payed employees of the institution, but you earn it.

    Oh and by the way in case you did not know, Houston has some of the best medical physics program in M.D. Anderson and Baylor Univ..
  10. Mar 13, 2015 #9
    Thank you. That was very insightful. I am looking foward to the challenges ahead.

    I have thoroughly researched UT and MD Andersons program and I am impressed with it. I can't figure out for the life of my why Baylor has never come up in a discussion. I feel stupid for never even considering it. Thank you for the input!
  11. Mar 24, 2015 #10
    To my knowledge, Baylor does not have a Medical Physics program. You can find a list of CAMPEP accredited programs here:

    I'm still learning the process, but I believe that to be a Medical Physicist (therapeutic, diagnostic, or nuclear medicine) you must go to and complete a CAMPEP accredited program, additionally you must pass all three parts of the ABR and complete a CAMPEP accredited residency. Again, I may have this process jumbled up a bit.

    Honestly, all fields of work have pros and cons. While keeping the job market in mind is wise, I would recommend that you speak with a medical physicist and look into the variety of careers that medical physicists go into. The field isn't just clinical, you can also go into academia, research, industry or even a combination of these. You might find that it is a field that you will like regardless of which route you choose, thus leaving you with more career options.

    While I was an undergrad I was not completely sure about what graduate programs I would apply for, however I researched and kept up with the requirements of programs that I was interested in and made sure that I took all required AND suggested courses (it is always good to be prepared!). I also suggest that you participate in summer research programs (such as REUs), travel to and present at national physics conferences (APS and SPS are good organizations), and try to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals. All of these things will expose you to a wide variety of fields and give you a better idea of how graduate school will be. Perhaps you'll find yourself doing a 360 (like I did) and going straight back to Medical Physics, or you'll run into something that excites you even more along the way.

    Good luck!
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Threads - medical physics career Date
Physics Medical Physics vs Biomedical Engineering May 17, 2017
Physics Can I handle Medical Physics as an Engineer?? Nov 19, 2016
Physics Guidance on Medical physics Oct 15, 2016
Physics Med Physics: Moving from Australia to Canada Jun 11, 2016
Physics I don't know what to get a master's in -- Medical physics? Engineering? Jan 27, 2016