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Medical Physics Undergraduate Programs

Jan 10, 2018

Learn about medical physics undergraduate programs. This article covers admission requirements, course descriptions, how to choose a program, and career information.

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Overview of Medical Physics Bachelor's Degree Programs

Medical physics programs prepare students for medical school or an advanced degree for a career in health science. While programs offering bachelor's degrees in medical physics are rare, there are several programs that offer degrees in physics with a concentration in health or medical physics. Coursework for these programs is founded on mathematics and physics, with more concentrated topics introduced in the third and fourth years. Read on for more details on coursework, along with information on the admission requirements and career options for a degree in this field.

Admission Requirements for Medical Physics Programs

Most schools do not distinguish between medical physics and general physics programs for the purposes of admitting students. Admission requirements are therefore based on those set for the overall physics department, and coursework specific to medical physics likely begins several years into the program. To apply, you will need to have completed high school or a GED program, and schools may like to see that you pursued a rigorous academic path at the high school level. Other factors that could be considered include your standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and application essays.

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Medical Physics Program Coursework

Medical physics students will be expected to meet all of the course requirements of a general physics program and will then choose advanced electives to concentrate in medical topics. Descriptions for some typical general and medical physics courses are below.

Modern Physics

Modern physics includes ideas and advancements in physics since the discovery of the quantum in the early 20th century. This course covers special relativity, solid state, astrophysics, and wave/particle duality. It might be an introductory survey to all of these types of physics, to prepare students for more advanced coursework in one or more of these areas.

Nuclear Radiation Science

Radiation has direct significance and applicability to health science. This introductory course covers atoms and nuclear structure, decay, and interaction of charged particles. This course may not directly focus on biological topics of radiation science. However, it might cover the biological effects of radiation, and it provides the theoretical background necessary for further study in radiation detection and instrumentation in a healthcare setting.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics

This course helps students develop a basic understanding of the principles of quantum mechanics. This includes learning the meaning of probabilistic measurements, one dimensional problems and quantum operators. Topics include use of the wave-function, the Schrodinger equation, angular momentum, and more.

Radiation Detection

Building on introductory nuclear radiation science, this course introduces the physics of detection and analysis techniques for measuring different types of ionizing radiation relevant to radiation therapy and imaging within the medical field. Topics covered include the use of scintillation crystal, film and gas detectors.

Biophysics of the Body and Cells

Biophysics covers topics of biology, anatomy and physiology from the perspective of physics. This means using analytical mechanics in the survey of various biological systems, like the respiratory system, skeletal system, and biokinetics. This course also covers cellular systems and functioning, such as genetic regulation and cell signaling. Topics in mechanics applied to these systems include energy conservation, fluid dynamics and Newtonian mechanics.

How to Choose a Medical Physics Program

A medical physics program is a good choice if you are interested in pursuing further education in medicine, research or health science, or if you want to prepare for a career in the health sciences. However, programs distinguish themselves from each other by which of these future paths they choose to focus on, so you should carefully assess the program requirements if you already know you'd like to attend medical school, for example. You can also look at the types of research and other hands-on opportunities available to undergraduate students. These opportunities are valuable additions to traditional learning that will serve you well upon graduation.

Career Options for a Degree in Medical Physics

Most graduates of medical physics programs go on to advanced degree programs, as careers in this field typically require a doctoral or professional degree. Medical physicist is one such career. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in 2016 for all physicists, including medical physicists, was $115,870. The number of jobs in this field is expected to grow by 14% from 2016-2026. Other related careers are listed below.

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