Medical physicists apply the principles of physics to diagnose, treat and prevent human disease.
Medical physics is concerned with:
The work of individual medical physicists can vary widely and includes:
Medical physicists often work as part of a multidisciplinary team with other clinical scientists, clinicians and technologists.
Medical physicists in the NHS usually work 37 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. In some specialties there are opportunities for part-time work and flexible working. In certain specialties, on-call, evening, or weekend work is sometimes necessary.
Most medical physicists work in hospitals, including clinics, laboratories and on wards. Others work solely in laboratories and workshops.
Medical physicists working with patients usually wear a white coat.
All jobs involve some travel to attend meetings and conferences.
Starting salaries for staff working in medical physics in the National Health Service (NHS) may be between £19,100 and £24,800 a year.
There are over 1,500 medical physicists in the UK, and numbers are increasing. Most work in the NHS. Others work for private hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, research organisations and government agencies.
Job vacancies are advertised in the national press, in scientific journals such as New Scientist and the British Medical Journal, and through a fortnightly placement service circular issued by the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM). In England and Wales, the NHS has a central recruitment centre for clinical scientist trainees, including medical physicists. Vacancies also appear on the NHS jobs website, www.jobs.nhs.uk.
Entry to training posts is highly competitive. It is an advantage to have relevant paid or voluntary work experience in a hospital medical physics department.
Entry to this work is with a first or upper second class degree in a physical science or engineering subject, such as physics, electrical engineering, electronic engineering, computer science or computer engineering.
Entry to degree courses is with at least two A levels, plus five GCSE's (A-C), including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. In practice, three A levels may be required. It is almost essential for medical physicists to have physics and maths at A level, or equivalent qualifications.
Some people enter with a postgraduate degree - either an MSc or PhD. Entry to these courses is with a good first degree.
A first position as a medical physicist in the NHS is usually as a clinical scientist trainee. Initial training, which lasts for two to three years, involves:
Trainees who enter with an accredited MSc do a shortened programme of hospital training.
In the NHS, initial training is followed by two years of supervised practice. Medical physicists then apply for registration with the Health Professions Council as clinical scientists.
After registration, medical physicists follow a programme of higher specialist training to develop their skills.
The IPEM is keen to encourage people who take a PhD immediately after graduation to enter the profession. They may be able to gain exemption from part of the training programme.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Medical physicists should:
There are many opportunities for further training and career development. For example, it is possible to gain a PhD, or to qualify as a chartered scientist, while working as a medical physicist.
Medical physicists may move into work outside the NHS, or go into academic life. It is common to move between employers to progress.
A small but growing proportion of medical physicists reach consultant status (equivalent to a medical consultant). This usually involves managing a scientific department or a major departmental section.
There may be opportunities to work abroad.
Health Professions Council, Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Working in the NHS:
England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel:0845 606 0655
Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.