What does a Medical Physicist do?
Medical physicists apply the principles of physics to patient care, working closely with doctors and other professionals to assess and treat ill health. Alongside other specialist physicists, clinical engineers and technical staff, they research, design and develop techniques and equipment used by medical staff to diagnose and treat patients.
Medical physicists are typically concerned with commissioning and testing new procedures, and ensuring the safe operation and maintenance of equipment designed to assess what is happening in the body. For example, they may seek to further advance, develop and support the use of:
- imaging techniques - created using light, ultrasound, radio frequency radiation, x and y radiation and magnetic resonance, for tracking physiological processes and aiding image-guided surgery
- radiation - calculating dosages for beams and internal radioactive sources used in the treatment of cancers
- electronic technology - used in a variety of ways to take physiological measurements and in testing or replacing organ function
- laser technology - a means of minimal invasive therapy used for applications such as fragmenting kidney stones, or in the treatment of eye disorders.
The work can include training hospital staff in the use of new systems, and providing support during the implementation of a new technique or complex treatment. They may help plan a treatment programme and explain a complex procedure to patients.
Computer applications and mathematical modelling are an integral part of the work of medical physicists, and many are involved in research, working closely with other professionals to overcome clinical problems. They may be responsible for radiation protection advice and services in the hospital for staff and patients, and for the environment.
Some may be involved in university lecturing.
What's the working environment like working as a Medical Physicist?
Medical physicists in the NHS will usually work 37.5 hours a week; this may include some on-call, evening or weekend work.
The work is based in hospitals, including on wards, in clinics and in laboratories. There may be contact with hazardous substances and radiation, for which protective measures are taken. Sitting or standing for long periods is common.
What does it take to become a Medical Physicist?
To be a medical physicist, you should:
- have a high level of ability and interest in physical sciences and computing
- have an interest in medicine and in the development of new methods of patient care and treatment
- be accurate, able to concentrate for long periods, and have a high level of attention to detail
- have high ethical standards and the ability to take responsibility for making decisions
- have an enquiring mind and good problem solving skills to lead a research and development team
- have excellent oral and written communication skills
- be able to reassure nervous patients.
Medical Physicist Career Opportunities
The majority of medical physicists in the UK work in the NHS. Opportunities also exist with private hospitals, medical research institutes and in the medical equipment industry.
The highest grade in the profession is Grade C. A medical physicist at this grade would be in charge of a scientific department or have made a distinguished contribution in the field.
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