Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

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Day To Day Tasks of a Medical Physicist

[Photo credit: Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth] Editor's notes: This guest post was written by Rachel Davis, she writes on the topic of Radiology degree. She welcomes your comments at her email id: racheldavis65[@]gmail[.]com . For a more detailed description on certification and accreditation requirements I strongly recommend you to read Sarah Cuddy's post "Hoping To Pursue A Career In Clinical Medical Physics? Here’s what you need to know" -- Samuel Oduneye

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A medical physicist is a radiation specialist whose responsibilities include the safe and effective delivery of radiation in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer, as prescribed by a doctor. They are not doctors and do not have to attend med school; however, they do need a master’s degree or a PhD degree that is supplemented by biology, medical physics and anatomy. They also have to qualify for and pass the American or Canadian Board of Radiology exams. So once you become a medical physicist, what could you expect on the job?

Medical physicists do two kinds of jobs – as a diagnostic radiologist who specializes in imaging, and as a radiation oncologist.

A typical day in the life of a medical physicist would involve:

  • Overseeing the administering of radiation to patients
  • Positioning the patient correctly and safely
  • Ensuring that the radiation dosage is accurate
  • Protecting them from over-exposure to radiation
  • Ensuring that the equipment is working correctly

A medical physicist who is a specialist in diagnostic radiology is responsible for testing and assuring the quality of all diagnostic devices used in radiology departments. He or she is in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the CT, MRI, laser Doppler, ultrasound and X-ray imaging systems in any laboratory or hospital.

A medical physicist who studies radiation oncology does one or a combination of the following:

  • They commission and calibrate the radiation therapy equipment and ensure that it functions effectively and safely. They are responsible for beam measurement and quality assurance so that patients receive the correct dosage and that the equipment is operated safely and correctly.
  • They are involved in developing new modes of treatment and in designing equipment like transducers and other electronic systems that help in the delivery of radiation. They research new therapies like ultraviolet radiation and photostimulated cytoxin and their efficacy and they carry out mathematical modeling of pressure, temperature, flow and perfusion.
  • They plan the treatment of patients, determine if external radiation beams or internal radioactive sources should be used, and calculate the doses and dose distribution in the patients’ bodies using complicated treatment planning systems.
  • They position the patients using sophisticated methods and systems that facilitate patient comfort and effective delivery of radiation. They also ensure that the patient does not move during the treatment and do everything possible to facilitate optimal delivery of radiation.
  • They collaborate with physicians in the procedures that utilize nuclear medicine, particularly in the delivery of radionuclides for delineating internal organs and determining important variables like metabolic rates and blood flow.
  • They interact with patients and with those involved in radiation research.
  • They keep up to date with the latest innovations and inventions in their field of study.
  • Some medical physicists may also be involved in researching heart disease (they work on the measurement of blood flow and oxygenation) and mental illness (they deal with recording, correlation and interpretation of bioelectric potentials).
  • Most of them also teach medical physics, radiobiology and medical physics at universities and colleges and help in the training of students who aspire to be medical physicists, resident physicians, medical students and technologists who operate diagnostic equipment.

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