Careers in Medical Physics
Medical physicists engage in three broad areas of activity: clinical consultation, teaching, and research. Clinical activities include consultation with radiotherapists 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 in medical physics, and technicians. 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 in 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 2008 survey by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, to which about 62% of the 4733 members who were emailed replied, showed that 1201 respondents had a Ph.D. and that 527 of the PhD physicists worked in a medical school or university hospital setting, 263 held the rank of associate or full professor; 72 percent were involved primarily in radiation therapy, with 14% in diagnostic radiology and 4% in nuclear medicine. About 26% of the medical physicists responding to the survey were active outside their regular employment, usually as consultants, thereby increasing their average income by about 20%. Medical Physics is a relatively young discipline: in the above survey, 32% of the respondents had less than 10 years of professional experience.
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 2008 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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