Careers in Medical Physics
Medical physicists engage in three broad areas of activity: clinical consultation, teaching, and research. Clinical activities include consultation with radiation oncologists in the planning and delivery of radiation treatments for cancer, consultation with radiologists and other physicians concerning the optimal use of medical imaging systems for the diagnosis of disease, the calibration of radiation sources, and the control of potential radiation hazards. Medical physicists participate in the teaching of resident physicians, medical students, graduate students, and technologists. Research opportunities open to medical physicists range from the development of instrumentation and quality control procedures in medical imaging and radiation therapy to the study of biomedical processes.
Most medical physicists are employed at universities and hospitals with a smaller number in research institutes, government health agencies, and industrial organizations. A few are self-employed, usually as consultants. Frequently, the hospital in which a medical physicist works is associated with a medical school, and the physicist is a member of the academic staff. A 2012 survey by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, to which about 61% of the 5467 members who were emailed replied, showed that 1381 respondents had a Ph.D. and that 632 of the Ph.D. physicists worked in a medical school or university hospital setting; 72 percent were involved primarily in radiation therapy, with 15% in diagnostic radiology and 4% in nuclear medicine.
Demand for Medical Physicists
The demand for medical physicists has exceeded the supply for many years. Most large medical centers employ physicists, and many have vacancies on their staff. Many smaller hospitals also are seeking medical physicists. In spite of the recent downturn in the economy, the AAPM survey of 2012 reported a strong job market for medical physicists. The increasing use of physical instruments and techniques in medicine and the increasing interest in medical research serve to increase the demand for medical physicists. Thus, many factors contribute to make medical physics a creative, expanding, and rewarding profession for the young physicist about to choose a career.
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