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  • A man is sitting at a worktop in a laboratory.  He is using a soldering iron on a piece of equipment.

    When soldering components together, a steady hand is vital.

  • A man is sitting at a desk in a laboratory.  He is using a computer.  There is a large piece of scientific machinery behind him.

    Much of the equipment is controlled by computer. This medical physicist is developing a machine that will be used to treat skin complaints.

  • A woman is sitting at a desk in a laboratory.  She is using a computer.

    Medical physicists design sophisticated equipment that is used to diagnose illnesses and treat patients.

  • A man is sitting at a desk, reading a book.  There are numerous other books on the desk.

    Doing research into recent developments in medical physics.

  • Medical Physicist

Medical Physicist

Introduction

Medical physicists apply the principles of physics to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. They might work on equipment that forms images of the body, such as ultrasound, or that treats patients, for example, in radiotherapy. They also work on physiological equipment, which measures processes in the body.

Also known as

  • Physicist, Medical

Work Activities

As a Medical Physicist, you will design, create and look after complex hospital equipment.

This includes:

  • X-ray machines
  • lasers
  • radiotherapy equipment
  • equipment that measures breathing and heart rates
  • artificial arms and legs
  • heart valves

Your work varies widely. It can include:

  • researching, designing and developing new equipment to aid diagnosis and treatment
  • working in a team to plan treatment that includes using equipment, for example, in radiotherapy or laser treatment
  • setting up, testing and preparing new equipment
  • using mathematical and computer models to solve clinical problems
  • advising medical staff on the results of patient tests
  • having patient contact in some areas of work, for example, explaining procedures to patients
  • providing radiation protection advice and services
  • maintaining hospital equipment
  • training medical and non-scientific staff to use equipment
  • teaching new Medical Physicists

You are often part of a multi-disciplinary team with other Clinical Scientists, Clinicians and Technologists.

Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.

Personal Qualities and Skills

To become a Medical Physicist, you'll need:

  • a high level of ability in physics
  • computer skills
  • an enquiring mind
  • the ability to lead research and development work
  • teamwork skills
  • excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • the ability to cope with high levels of responsibility, as patients' lives or safety might depend on your decisions and advice
  • a professional approach to your work, with high ethical standards
  • the ability to put patients at their ease
  • accuracy and attention to detail
  • high levels of concentration
  • good problem-solving skills

Pay and Opportunities

Pay

NHS employees are paid on a rising scale within defined pay bands, according to their skills and responsibilities. The pay rates given below are approximate.

  • Starting - Band 5: £24,214 - £30,112
  • With experience - Band 7: £37,570 - £43,772
  • Senior Medical Physicists - Band 9: £89,537 - £103,860

Hours of work

Medical Physicists usually work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some need to work shifts on a rota basis.

Where could I work?

Employers include the NHS, private hospitals and the armed forces.

Opportunities for Medical Physicists occur in hospitals in towns and cities throughout the UK.

Where are vacancies advertised?

Vacancies are advertised on the NHS Jobs website, in local/national newspapers and on job boards.

Entry Routes and Training

Entry routes and training

To become a Medical Physicist, there are two possible entry routes. The Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) involves a BSc degree in healthcare science. You can choose to follow a specialist pathway: radiotherapy physics, radiation physics or nuclear medicine.

The degree combines academic learning and workplace-based training. It includes 50 weeks of work-based training in the NHS over the three years of the course. In the first two years, you'd have broad scientific training, with specialisation beginning in the second or third years. When choosing a course, you must make sure that it is approved and accredited to meet the requirements of the PTP. You would apply for these healthcare science degrees through UCAS.

Entry is also possible through the graduate-entry Scientist Training Programme (STP). For this, you'll usually need at least a 2:1 in a degree subject that's relevant to medical physics. Entry can be possible with a 2:2 if you also have a relevant postgraduate qualification. Medical physics training includes topics such as radiation safety physics, radiotherapy physics and imaging science. You'll be employed by an NHS Trust throughout your training and work towards an accredited master's degree.

A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article 'Internships', for more details.

Work Experience

Previous experience working in a science position would be really useful for this career.

Progression

Medical Physicists can specialise, in areas such as radiation protection, nuclear medicine or physiological measurement. They can also progress to management, research or teaching posts.

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

In the NHS, this career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.

This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.

Qualifications

For entry to an accredited course in healthcare science (nuclear medicine or radiotherapy physics), you'll need:

  • 3 A levels at grades with at least one in maths or physics
  • GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
  • a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including maths and english

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is acceptable, with at least 32 points.

Entry to the NHS Scientist Training Programme is usually with at least a 2:1 degree in a subject relevant to medical physics.

Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.

Adult Opportunities

Age limits

It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.

Skills/experience

Some entrants have industrial experience and/or a postgraduate qualification.

Courses

If you don't have the qualifications you need to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing a college or university Access course, such as Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to start an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.

Funding

Funding is available for the courses at Swansea University. There are no tuition fees. New students receive a non-means-tested grant of £1,000 and a means-tested bursary of up to £4,395. There is also access to additional support.

Statistics

  • 6% of people in occupations such as medical physicist work part-time.
  • 14% have flexible hours.
  • 8% of employees work on a temporary basis.

Further Information

Professional institutions

Professional institutions have the following roles:

  • To support their members.
  • To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine is the professional institution for medical physicists.

NHS Wales Careers

Publisher: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare

Email: abm.wedsteam@wales.nhs.uk

Website: www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/829/page/36090

NHS Jobs

Website: www.jobs.nhs.uk

Step into the NHS

NHS careers

Tel: 0345 6060655

Website: www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk

Skills for Health

Skills for the health sector

Address: Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP

Tel: 0117 9221155

Email: office@skillsforhealth.org.uk

Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

NHS Education for Scotland (NES)

Scottish enquiries

Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN

Tel: 0131 6563200

Email: enquiries@nes.scot.nhs.uk

Website: www.nes.scot.nhs.uk

Institute of Physics (IOP)

Address: 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT

Tel: 020 7470 4800

Email: physics@iop.org

Website: www.iop.org

Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)

Address: Fairmount House, 230 Tadcaster Road, York YO24 1ES

Tel: 01904 610821

Email: office@ipem.ac.uk

Website: www.ipem.ac.uk

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