Medical physicists use science and engineering technology to develop, design and evaluate medical equipment and procedures, including radiotherapy, laser technology and imaging techniques such as x-rays. Medical staff use the equipment to identify problems or treat patients.
As a medical physicist you would work in areas such as:
imaging – monitoring organs to make sure they are functioning as they should
radiation and radiotherapy – calculating how much radiation should be administered for an individual's cancer treatment
electronics – designing instruments used for taking measurements
laser technology – using techniques that prevent the need for invasive surgery such as laser eye surgery, or breaking down kidney stones.
You could be:
training medical staff how to use equipment to treat patients
explaining treatment and possible side effects to patients
supervising medical staff while they are carrying out treatment on patients, such as monitoring radiation dosage
advising staff on using equipment safely and how to protect themselves from radiation, x-rays, gamma rays, ultrasound and lasers
developing ways of taking good images which help in diagnosis but do not put the patient at risk
analysing results from nuclear medicine tests
ensuring equipment is monitored and maintained, so that it is safe and achieves correct and consistent results
researching and developing new equipment for treating patients
keeping up to date with the latest scientific and medical research.
Trainee medical physics technician working in the NHS start on Band 6, £35,522 to £43,286 a year.
As an HCPC registered medical physicist you would be on Band 7, £43,422 to £50,506 a year. The current pay scales are from April 2022.
With experience, in senior positions, this can rise to Band 9, £107,840 to £112,673 a year.
You would work in a laboratory, usually in a hospital.
You might have to be on call some evenings and weekends.
You might work with dangerous materials and you could be exposed to radiation, but you would follow health and safety procedures.
You would wear protective clothing at certain times, such as when supervising radiation treatment.
To enter as a trainee medical physicist, you should have a 2:1 Honours degree (SCQF Level 10), or 2:2 and a Masters degree (SCQF Level 11) in a subject such as physics, engineering, biomedical engineering or applied mathematics.
Entry requirements for a degree are normally 4-5 Highers including Maths and Physics plus some subjects at National 5, including English.
Courses accredited by the Institute of Physics or one of the engineering bodies (such as the Engineering Council or Institution of Engineering and Technology) lead to membership of professional bodies, which may help further your career.
Most medical physicists work for the National Health Service (NHS), but there are also jobs in universities and with research organisations.
What Does it Take?
You should be:
accurate with excellent attention to detail
able to concentrate for long periods
willing to persevere
good at solving problems
able to work under pressure
willing to take a high level of responsibility.
You should have:
excellent scientific ability
an interest in applying science and technology to health care
good research skills
good communication skills.
To become fully qualified and able to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), you complete three years of training.
For your training, you would apply to the Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme. In Year 1, you complete a relevant MSc degree from a Scottish university, and in Year 2, you rotate around specialisms in either medical physics or clinical engineering. In Year 3, you will choose your specialism to focus on.
Completion of the 3-year training scheme leads to registration with the HCPC.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards of professional training, performance and conduct in the following health care professions: Arts Therapists; Audiologist; Biomedical Scientist; Chiropodist and Podiatrist; Clinical Scientist; Dietician; Dramatherapist; Occupational Therapist; Operating Department Practitioner; Orthoptist; Paramedic; Physiotherapist; Practitioner Psychologist; Prosthetist and Orthotist; Radiographer; Speech and Language Therapist. (The HCPC may regulate other healthcare professions in the future.) The HCPC website contains a register of all approved courses in the above professions.