how to become a medical physicist

Education Requirements
To work as a medical physicist, candidates need at least a master’s degree but more often earn a doctoral degree in medical physics, radiation biology or a closely related discipline from an accredited school. Candidates are also required to complete clinical training through a residency or postdoctoral program, which usually lasts 1-2 years in a hospital or clinic. The Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs, Inc. (CAMPEP) accredits medical physics graduate and training programs. According to the CAMPEP, as of February 2015 there were 47 accredited graduate programs in the United States and Canada. The CAMPEP also indicates that as of April 2015, there were 90 accredited residency programs in the United States and Canada. Applicants need a solid foundation in general physics with a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline to qualify.

Medical physicists are eligible for certification while enrolled in a residency program or after they begin their practice. Once certified, they are considered qualified medical physicists. Certification is offered in four areas of medical physics, including therapeutic radiological physics, diagnostic radiological physics, medical nuclear physics and medical health physics. There are several certifying boards, such as the American Board of Radiology, American Board of Medical Physics and American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine.

The certification process varies by certifying board, but typically involves passing physics and clinical examinations prior to a final certifying examination. To register for exams, candidates need a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or a doctoral degree in medical physics or a closely related field from an accredited program. They must also be currently employed under the direction of a certified medical physicist.

The American Board of Radiology (ABR) offers certification in three areas. The certifying exams are divided into three parts. Part one consists of a written general and clinical exam covering topics in anatomy, physics, pathophysiology and radiology. Part two involves taking a test in up to three of the specialty areas. Part three is the final oral examination administered during or after residency training. The oral exam is based on an individual’s training, experience and areas of practice. According to the ABR, the written examinations consist of a computer-based core exam to be taken 36 months after starting residency training; and a qualifying exam to be taken after graduating from residency.

Licensure and Registration
According to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, some states require medical physicists to be licensed or registered due to strict regulations regarding radioactive material and radiation from machines. Licensure or registration requirements vary by state and may include having a master’s or doctoral degree in medical physics, accruing a minimum amount of work experience, obtaining board certification and paying a fee.