Who are Medical Physicists? How do I become a Medical Physicist?
Who are Medical Physicists?
Medical physicists are involved with patient care, research into new medical technologies, and teaching. Medical physicists enjoy employment both in clinical and non-clinical settings such as clinics, academia, government, and industry. There are four sub-specialties of medical physics: Diagnostic medical physicists optimize diagnostic image quality, develop new imaging technology, and monitor the radiation safety of current technologies (e.g. x-rays, ultrasound, CT, MRI). Nuclear medical physicists develop and monitor the use of radionuclides for imaging (e.g. PET imaging). Therapeutic medical physicists, working mainly on the treatment of cancer, develop new radiation treatment technology (e.g. intensity-modulated radiation therapy, stereotactic radiation therapy), collaborate with radiation oncologists, and monitor equipment to ensure each patient’s safety. Medical health physicists monitor the use of radiation to protect non-patients (e.g. nurses, doctors, visitors, everyone but the person being treated with radiation).
How do I become a Medical Physicist?
Medical physicists can pursue career paths in either professional clinical roles or non-clinical roles such as academic research or industrial careers.
Clinical medical physicists are individually certified in radiological physics (diagnostic imaging, radiation therapy, and/or nuclear medicine) after a series of three exams by the American Board of Radiology. A significant change to the ABR’s eligibility criteria began in 2014. In order to begin the certification process, you must have graduated from or be enrolled in a CAMPEP-approved residency program. Please keep this in mind when applying for programs, as non-CAMPEP Medical Physics programs do exist.
Physicists pursuing non-clinical careers do not necessarily need to be board certified. Non-clinical careers include working in industry, academic research, radiation safety or health physics, regulation, science policy, science writing, and many more positions. Each non-clinical career requires slightly different experience and training. Researching what a career in each of these fields will allow you to better prepare for what kind of medical physicist you want to be and what certifications to attain.
What can I do with a degree in medical physics?
There are many opportunities available after graduation with the Master of Science in Medical Physics. With a degree in medical physics, students have the option to pursue certification through the American Board of Radiology in the following specialties: Therapeutic Medical Physics, Diagnostic Medical Physics, or Nuclear Medical Physics. Some students have interest in health physics and pursue certification through the American Board of Health Physics.
The MPGP program gives the student a general overview of all specialties through coursework, labs, and professional development seminars. Students are involved in more hands-on clinical and research activities through clinical practicum, thesis research, and employment in the clinic.
We have advising conversations with students to better understand their career interests. Then we work with them to develop a plan which focuses on their interest. For example, if a student is interested in Diagnostic Medical Physics they would work with our Radiology or Bioengineering department for their practicum and/or thesis.
What are the costs of the programs? Is financial aid available?
The cost of the programs and financial aid opportunities can be found here.
Do you offer a PhD program in medical physics?
The innovative PhD in Bioengineering - Medical Physics Track Coordinated Degree allows you to pursue the PhD in Bioengineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and simultaneously receive clinical training through the Perelman School of Medicine’s (PSOM) Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs (CAMPEP) accredited Medical Physics program. Upon completion of the doctoral degree in bioengineering (with CAMPEP core courses), you will be eligible to apply for a medical physics residency and take the American Board of Radiology (ABR) certification exams.
What are your programs' statistics for admission, residency placement, and initial placement of graduates?
Our program statistics can be found here.
What academic background do I need?
The academic requirements for admission can be found here.
What can I do to strengthen my application?
Our admissions committee is looking for applicants who are both academically qualified and motivated to pursue a career in medical physics. Here are our tips for putting together a successful application:
1. While in college, do research, and even an independent study, if possible. If you can, publish your work.
2. Take and do well in upper-level physics and math courses. Although your cumulative GPA is important, the admissions committee is particularly looking for strong physics and math grades. Also, while introductory coursework in chemistry, biology, and computer science is not required for the application, it is recommended and helpful for success in the program.
3. Shadow a medical physicist, even for a few hours. Shadowing gives you a better understanding of what a medical physicist does and may help to confirm your interest in a career in the field. You can contact your local hospital’s department of radiation oncology to connect with a medical physicist. You can also ask to attend department lectures and/or volunteer to do research with a faculty member who does research in medical physics.
4. Learn more about what medical physicists do and the field of medical physics:
- American Association of Physicists in Medicine (professional association for medical physicists)
- SDAMPP Student Guide to a Medical Physics Career
- Current research topics can be found by perusing the most recent AAPM Annual Meeting Program
5. Use the personal statement as an opportunity to describe your interest in, knowledge of, and commitment to a career in medical physics.
6. Choose your letter of recommendation writers wisely.
Is there a minimum GPA requirement needed for admission?
No, but successful applicants typically have a 3.5 cumulative grade point average (GPA) or higher, with grades of “B” or better in physics and math courses.
Is the GRE test required for admission?
No. It is optional to submit the GRE General Test score. Applicants who would like the Admissions Committee to consider their GRE scores may still submit them (use ETS institutional code 2900).
Do I need to submit a TOEFL or IELTS score for admission?
Our English Language Proficiency policy can be found here.
Is part-time enrollment available?
Yes. Part-time enrollment options are available for both the master's degree and certificate program. Applicants should select their desired enrollment option within the application for admission.
Is admission available for the spring term?
No. Admission is for the fall term only because of the sequencing of the courses.
Do you offer research experiences for undergraduates?
The SUPERS program is a ten week summer research program hosted by the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) at the University of Pennsylvania. The primary goal of the program is to provide talented and motivated undergraduates with an individualized science-based learning curriculum. The core component of the program is the a hypothesis-driven laboratory research experience. Several SUPERS participants have subsequently completed our master's program.