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 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.
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.
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.