Biophysics Vs. Medical Physics Degrees

Biophysics and medical physics degrees may seem similar at first glance, but a closer look will give candidates much-needed perspective on how to decide between the two.

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Intro to Biophysics & Medical Physics Degrees

Both biophysics and medical physics apply the principles of physics to molecular biology as it relates to medicine. While much of what is learned through a biophysics program can be applied to a medical physics program, these two areas of study are very different and require candidates to possess varying skillsets. The main difference between biophysics and medical physics is that biophysics deals with understanding the structure, dynamics, interactions, and function of biological systems, while medical physics uses this understanding to make significant discoveries in medicine. Medical physics degrees are largely designed for graduate students seeking a master's degree; however, there are some undergraduate programs that allow candidates to earn a bachelor's in medical physics. Programs in these fields tend to be more competitive in nature, and aspiring physicists will need to stand out from the crowd when submitting their applications to the universities they wish to attend.

Admission Requirements for Biophysics & Medical Physics Candidates

Candidates applying to either a biophysics or medical physics degree program will need to complete a formal application with the institution they wish to attend. Many universities require candidates to submit at least two letters of recommendation from academic advisors or previous instructors. Because programs in biophysics and medical physics are quite competitive, prospective candidates must hold a high GPA on their high school transcripts. Usually, program participants will need to have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA in order to be considered due to the rigorous and difficult nature of the program's coursework.

Common Courses in Biophysics & Medical Physics Programs

Because biophysics and medical physics share many of the same fundamental principles, candidates will find similarities between coursework offered in both degree programs. The following are some of the learning outcomes from pursuing such a degree:

Protein Engineering & Nucleic Acids

Bio- and medical physicists must understand the evolution of disease at the molecular level in order to be successful in their careers. Protein engineering and nucleic acids studies teach candidates about the relationship between genes, proteins, and the structural and functional consequences of mutations in each. Through hands-on research labs, aspiring graduates will learn how to engineer proteins and perform experiments in site-directed mutagenesis, protein purification, and more.

Cellular Biology & Physiology

To perfect their skills in molecular biology, candidates will further their studies in this area — especially as it pertains to cellular structures. Studies focus on cytoskeletal organization and function, cell division cycles, and cellular interactions. Program participants will learn how to distinguish different cell types from one another and will gain an understanding of cellular membrane structure and function.

Radiation Biophysics

Most commonly seen in medical physics degree programs, radiation biophysics (or radiation biology) deals with the effects of ionizing radiation on cells, molecules, and organ systems. Candidates learn how to use and analyze x-rays, gamma rays, accelerator beams, and neutrons to diagnose patients and create effective treatment plans. In developing these skills, program participants will better understand how to apply their knowledge in radiation to health physics and radiation oncology.

Anatomy & Physiology

Biophysics and medical physics require a fundamental understanding of how molecular structures affect human anatomy and physiology. Coursework in this area involves topics in basic human chemistry; the anatomy and physiology of cells, tissues, and organs; and the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. Candidates will learn how to synthesize their knowledge in physics, physiology, and anatomy to apply it within a clinical setting.

Chemistry

Across both fields, knowledge in chemistry is essential. Candidates must learn the basic concepts of chemistry, including chemical calculation, atomic structure, and basic bonding theory. Program participants will be able to use this fundamental knowledge to better understand the ways in which cells and molecules react to one another in the presence of different chemical compounds.

How to Choose Between Biophysics & Medical Physics

Candidates considering degrees in either biophysics or medical physics will first need to understand what their goals are beyond graduation. While a medical physics degree prepares graduates for a medically focused career path, a biophysics degree covers more diverse topics and can be applied to a number of different industries. Whether an individual chooses a medical physics or biophysics degree, they must have the laboratory resources available to gain the knowledge necessary for later career success. To this end, it's recommended that prospective participants thoroughly tour the campus and laboratory settings at the institution in which they hope to enroll.

Available Careers in Biophysics & Medical Physics

Biophysics and medical physics program graduates go on to pursue a number of different career paths. Because each field covers many different topics within the biomedical discipline, there is no one set career path for candidates to take after graduation. Some candidates may go on to become biomedical engineers, creating novel instruments for medical treatments and disease control. Those pursuing such a career earned a median of $88,550 annually in 2018, with employment projected to grow by 4% between 2018 and 2028, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Career opportunities also exist for candidates in the following areas:

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