What is Medical Physics?

What is Medical Physics?

Medical Physics deals with the interactions of matter and energy in medicine. Physical principles are applied to assist with clinical diagnoses and therapies. A Medical Physicist is a professionally qualified person with specialist education and training in the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine. Working with other healthcare professionals, physicists apply science to optimise patient care in a high quality, safe and effective environment.

Medical physicists usually work in a hospital but also can work in universities and related industries. Medical physicists are concerned with three areas of service delivery: clinical service and consultation, research and development, and teaching.

Typical Work Activities

  • Commissioning new equipment.
  • Monitoring equipment to ensure that correct and consistent results or outputs are achieved.
  • Liaising closely with doctors to add technical results to their clinical reports.
  • Assisting in changes to patient diagnostic and treatment techniques in response to new procedures.
  • Processing complex patient image data
  • Planning radiotherapy treatment in conjunction with clinicians.
  • Drafting and developing policies for operating equipment.
  • Troubleshooting problems with medical devices.
  • Researching new equipment developments and techniques, assessing the impact on existing local practice and compiling reports to initiate changes.
  • Lecturing and training other health professionals.
  • Updating knowledge of health and safety legislation and procedures.
  • Undertaking continuing professional training and development.

What are the different areas of Medical Physics?

  • X-ray Imaging:

    X-rays are used to image inside patients. Computed tomography (CT), mammography, and fluoroscopy are types of x-ray imaging.

  • Ultrasound:

    High frequency sound waves are used to obtain images from inside the body; this is widely used in pregnancy.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

    MRI is a type of scan which combines magnetism and radiofrequency waves to obtain pictures inside the body; for example the brain.

  • UV Phototherapy:

    UV light is used to treat a variety of skin conditions and for diagnosis.

  • Nuclear Medicine:

    Trace amounts of radioactive material used beneficially to diagnose diseases. Nuclear medicine therapies are also widely used.

  • Medical Lasers:

    UV, visible and infrared lasers are used to ablate tissue in surgery.

  • Radiation Therapy:

    The use of high energy particles like protons (and others) to kill cancer

How does one pursue a career in medical physics?

To pursue a career in Medical Physics it is normal to have the following:

  • A good honours degree in Physics or in the Physical Sciences. This can be pursued at Universities and Institutes of Technology throughout Ireland.
  • A relevant postgraduate degree (MSc or PhD). A tailored taught MSc program is run annually by the National University of Ireland, Galway and University College Dublin.

Details on the National Cancer Control Programme National Radiation Oncology Physics Residency Programme can be downloaded here.

Of course, academic training alone does not make a medical physicist. Practical experience with clinical problems is usually required; this experience can be gained either through a structured training scheme or employment in a medical physics department.