Medical Physics M.S. Vs. PhD

Mar 29, 2019

Students can combine their interest in physics and medicine through M.S. or PhD programs in medical physics. Compare the 2 programs, common coursework, and the admission process.

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Graduate programs in medical physics train students in forms of radiation and physics that apply to the medical field. Degrees are available at the master's and doctoral levels, and while these programs prepare students for similar careers, programs vary in length and requirements. Find out more about what sets the master's degree apart from the doctoral degree in medical physics.

M.S. vs. PhD in Medical Physics

Master of Science in Medical Physics

Master of Science (M.S.) in Medical Physics degree programs are typically in-person programs that can be completed in 2 to 3 years. Although rare, some of these programs could be available online. Typical programs may offer additional tracks or concentrations, such as therapy or diagnostic physics, and students are likely to take coursework that discusses topics in human anatomy, radiation biophysics, nuclear science, instrumentation, and medical physics. Programs usually include multiple practicum experiences in areas like nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, or diagnostic radiology, for hands-on learning, but may also offer or require independent studies, a thesis, and/or internship opportunities. Graduates of master's programs may pursue advanced education, apply for medical physics residency programs, and/or earn professional certification and work as clinical medical physicists.

Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Physics

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Medical Physics degree programs are only available on campus and can usually be completed in 5 years. Students may have up to 7 or 8 years to finish, though, if needed. Some programs allow students to earn their M.S. while working towards their PhD and/or begin taking some of their professional certification exams. Typically, doctoral degree programs require students to take comprehensive exams, complete a dissertation, and/or attend seminars and journal clubs. Coursework includes similar course topics as the M.S. programs, but may have more in-depth material in subjects like radionuclides, dosimetry, ethics, quantum physics, laser physics, and electromagnetic theory. Graduates of doctoral programs can pursue medical physics residency programs to become clinical medical physicists or pursue research or teaching positions in higher education, laboratories, and the medical or nuclear technology industries.

Common Entrance Requirements

Admission for graduate programs in medical physics may be competitive and applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Some programs require that the bachelor's degree be in physics, engineering, physical science, or another related field, and/or may require that students meet a minimum GPA. Several of these graduate programs expect applicants to have prerequisite coursework in subjects like calculus, chemistry, biology, and/or physics. The majority of these programs require students to take the general GRE test and have their official scores sent to the institution. Other common application materials for these degree programs include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, a personal statement, and responses to any additional application questions.

Students can complete an M.S. in Medical Physics in as little as 2 years, while it takes at least 5 years to earn a PhD in the field. Graduates of each program can pursue medical physics residency programs, but those with a doctorate in the field can work in resesarch labs or education.

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