For Students interested in a Career in Medical Physics
We hope that this page will answer your questions about becoming a medical physicist. It has been prepared by the Student Physicist Association Subcommittee of the AAPM (SPASC). To learn about our current activities and to contact us, please visit our home page.
Medical physicists are involved with patient care, research into new medical technologies, and teaching. 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).
The summer undergraduate fellowship program is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience in medical physics during college. The ten-week summer fellowship matches interested students with medical physics mentors in laboratory or clinical settings.
The Minority Undergraduate Summer Experience Program (MUSE) is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience in medical physics during college. The ten-week summer fellowship matches interested students with medical physics mentors in laboratory or clinical settings.
Many U.S. and Canadian universities offer M.S. and/or Ph.D. programs in Medical Physics. Typically an applicant will have an undergraduate degree in physics or engineering. Certain medical physics programs have been accredited by CAMPEP (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs, Inc.) while there are many other non-accredited programs, or programs in the process of accreditation. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Medical Physics may apply for a two-year fellowship offered by the AAPM.
Residency programs are becoming a popular method for gaining practical experience before jumping into clinical work. These are typically two year programs following the M.S. or Ph.D. degree. The number of available residencies is quickly growing to meet the demand.
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. Recently, there has been a significant change to the ABR’s eligibility criteria. In order to begin the certification process from 2012-2013 (which means applying in September 2011 and September 2012), you must have graduated from or be enrolled in a CAMPEP-approved graduate school or a CAMPEP-approved residency program. In order to begin the certification process in 2014 and after (which means all applications starting September 2013), you must have graduated from or be enrolled in a CAMPEP-approved residency program. Please keep this in mind when applying for programs, and do not hesitate to ask the program directors about how to best navigate this transitional period.
Canadian medical physicists have a second option for personal certification: the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine (CCPM). The Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP) is the Canadian professional organization of medical physicists.