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What is Medical Physics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Medical physics is a branch of physics which focuses on the application of physics to the health care profession. Medical physicists usually possess a PhD in physics, and they may also be qualified medical doctors, depending on the area of medical physics in which they practice. This profession includes people who work in teaching, research, and clinical practice, improving health care in a variety of settings and taking advantage of new developments in physics to improve the standard of care for a range of health care problems.

One of the most obvious applications for medical physics is in nuclear medicine, the branch of medicine which involves using radioactive isotopes in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Medical physicists can help to develop treatment plans for patients, make overall recommendations about the applications of nuclear medicine, and supervise safety programs which are designed to minimize exposure to radiation.

Medical physicists may work on developing methods that can help to break up kidney stones.
Medical physicists may work on developing methods that can help to break up kidney stones.

Medical physics is also key to medical imaging, in which a variety of techniques are used to visualize the inside of the human body. Both static and moving medical imaging studies can be conducted by a medical physicist, or with the use of equipment designed by experts in this field. In addition to developing imaging techniques for the diagnosis of disease, medical physicists can also be involved in the application of physics to the treatment of disease, as in the use of lasers in surgery, endoscopy to perform minimally invasive procedures, or high intensity ultrasound to break up kidney stones.

Medical imaging studies offer a minimally invasive way to determine the cause of symptoms or confirm a diagnosis.
Medical imaging studies offer a minimally invasive way to determine the cause of symptoms or confirm a diagnosis.

There are a number of fields of potential study in medical physics, ranging from radiation therapy for cancer patients to ultrasound diagnostics for pregnant women. Medical physics can also be applied to veterinary care. The standard of veterinary care for working and companion animals is constantly improving thanks to developments in medical physics, and medical physics is also used to care for exotic animals in zoos and animals in conservation programs which are trying to prevent extinction.

Radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer patients is one potential area of study for medical physics.
Radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer patients is one potential area of study for medical physics.

People who are interested in physics and the practice of medicine might be good candidates for careers in medical physics. Individuals who want to participate in patient care can pursue careers in clinical practice which will offer a variety of opportunities for patient interactions, while students who are more interested in developing new techniques and equipment can work in research and development. The need for teachers is also continual, with medical physicists teaching future doctors and medical technicians in addition to people studying medical physics.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

JaneAir

@Monika - I've always found that in the medical field a lot of different scientific disciplines come into play. Biology, chemistry, and physics are all important to modern medicine and some fantastic medical breakthroughs can happen when you combine them.

If your friend does end up liking physics there are plenty of opportunities out there in medical physics research. Who knows, your friend might come up with a whole new way to make images of the human body!

Monika

One of my friends just got started with her prerequisites to go to school for medical imaging. I was a little confused by the fact that she had to take two physics courses but this sheds a little more light on the situation. I guess if my friend really takes a liking to physics there are plenty of medical physics jobs out there!

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    • Medical physicists may work on developing methods that can help to break up kidney stones.
      By: pankajstock123
      Medical physicists may work on developing methods that can help to break up kidney stones.
    • Medical imaging studies offer a minimally invasive way to determine the cause of symptoms or confirm a diagnosis.
      By: Trish23
      Medical imaging studies offer a minimally invasive way to determine the cause of symptoms or confirm a diagnosis.
    • Radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer patients is one potential area of study for medical physics.
      By: jovannig
      Radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer patients is one potential area of study for medical physics.
    • Medical physicists can be involved in the application of physics to the treatment of disease, as in the use of endoscopy to perform procedures.
      By: Max Tactic
      Medical physicists can be involved in the application of physics to the treatment of disease, as in the use of endoscopy to perform procedures.
    • Ultrasound diagnostics for pregnant women is part of the field of medical physics.
      By: Monkey Business
      Ultrasound diagnostics for pregnant women is part of the field of medical physics.
    • Both static and moving medical imaging studies may be conducted by a medical physicist.
      By: Maurizio Milanesio
      Both static and moving medical imaging studies may be conducted by a medical physicist.