Medical physicists help plan radiation treatment for patients, check and monitor radiation equipment, and develop new treatment techniques.
Trainee medical physicists usually earn
$55K-$73K per year
Qualified medical physicists usually earn
$89K-$141K per year
Source: APEX and DHB Collective Agreement, 2017.
Pay for medical physicists varies depending on experience.
- Trainee medical physicists (registrars) usually earn between $55,000 and $73,000 a year.
- Qualified medical physicists can earn between $89,000 and $103,000.
- Senior medical physicists with extra clinical skills or management responsibilities can earn from $107,000 to $141,000.
Source: Association of Professionals and Executive Employees (APEX) and District Health Boards, 'Medical Physicists Collective Employment Agreement, 26 November 2015 to 31 August 2018', 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Medical physicists may do some or all of the following:
- research and develop new equipment and techniques
- ensure the safe use and correct operation of medical equipment
- order medical equipment
- monitor and test radiation equipment and dosage
- work with a medical team to create treatment plans
- contribute to the design of new medical facilities.
Skills and knowledge
Medical physicists need to have knowledge of:
- physics as it applies to medicine
- the use of radiation to treat cancer or diagnose disease
- anatomy, physiology and radiation biology
- medical technology and equipment.
- usually work regular business hours, but may work longer hours if needed
- work in hospitals or research departments in universities.
What's the job really like?
Medical physicists talk about about their work – 4.51 mins. ( Video courtesy of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists)
Nick Hardcastle: So physicists in their day-to-day duties will work with the machines to make sure they’re delivering the right radiation output, they’ll make sure the machines are mechanically within the spec, ensure the radiation safety of the whole environment.
Catherine: My job is really to make sure that the radiation therapy that people receive at our hospital is delivered accurately and safely.
Nick: The second part of the job is to work with the technology and make sure we’re delivering the most efficient and effective treatment we can, and work out ways to improve treatment for radiation patients.
Catherine: The radiation oncology medical physicists behind the scenes crew – you’ll rarely see us – occasionally we will meet patients but we’re really working behind the scenes to make sure that every step of your treatment is safe and accurate. We are involved with pretty much every step of the process that happens before your treatment, so everything from calibrating the CT scanner, looking after the planning systems that the computers use to generate the treatment plans, and making sure that the linear accelerators that actually deliver the treatment are all very safe and accurate.
Nick: The most satisfying aspect of my work as a medical physicist would be the fact that I get to work with a multidisciplinary team of radiation therapists, radiation oncologists, and also different scientists.
Nick: A good physicist is primarily a good scientist, they must be heavily involved and enjoy the scientific method and that’s both theoretical and practical.
Catherine: It’s my personality to be quite calm and composed, and you obviously need to be good with numbers and physics, but you also it’s really the most important thing I think is being able to see the clinical significance of those numbers and those techniques that we use.
Catherine: Radiation oncology medical physics is a great career to work in if you’re interested in having a family as well. It’s a safe environment to work in. As physicists we ensure that it’s safe – that’s our role.
Nick: We can essentially pick and choose the hours we want to work. If I want to work early in the morning and finish earlier in the day – that’s fine I can do work on the machines prior to it and I can work during the clinical hours. I have a young baby and it’s quite easy for me to schedule my hours around my family.
Catherine: I think also on the work life balance, there’s a great opportunity for travel with medical physicists. Internationally there’s a shortage of medical physicists so it does give you the opportunity to work really anywhere in the world.
Nick: We’re quite a small community worldwide so we’re constantly linked in to our colleagues in the international centres in America and Europe and Asia and so we’re quite good at collaborating with each other, both with research projects, and also with clinical trials.
Catherine: Treatments are becoming much more personalised, more individualised, this is all occurring according to evidence- based medicine, best practice, and we have to be behind that not only responding to these changes but really driving them from a physics point of view.
Nick: Probably the best way to get into medical physics would be to do a physics degree as an undergraduate degree and then you can either do a master’s in medical physics or then go into it from there, or you can do a trainee position and your masters in parallel.
Catherine: Working in the cancer field is incredibly rewarding even though we don’t have much face-to-face contact with patients it’s so satisfying to know that what we do behind the scenes directly affects their outcome.
Nick: Well I don’t personally interact with the cancer patients in most of my day-to-day duties I understand that every part of my job is helping to improve the cancer treatment that they have and making sure that they’re receiving the most effective treatment.
To become a medical physicist you need to have a relevant undergraduate degree, such as one of the following:
- Bachelor of Science in Physics (Medical Physics and Imaging Technology)
- Bachelor of Science in Physics
- Bachelor of Engineering with a strong maths and physics component.
You then enter specialist training and work experience, involving:
- a Masters of Science in Medical Physics
- a five-year clinical Training, Education and Accreditation Programme (TEAP), done in conjunction with the Master's degree
- accreditation with the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM).
- University of Auckland website - information on the Bachelor of Science in Physics (Medical Physics and Imaging Technology)
- University of Canterbury website - information on the Masters of Science in Medical Physics
- Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM) website - information about TEAP training
- Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM) website - information about membership
NCEA Level 3 is needed to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, digital technologies, maths, physics, and construction and mechanical technologies.
Medical physicists need to be:
- skilled at research, and at analysing and interpreting research results
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- good at communicating
- good at solving problems
- persistent and patient
- able to work well independently and as part of a team.
Useful experience for medical physicists includes:
- work as a laboratory technician
- engineering work
- any scientific research work
- work with medical equipment or electronics.
Medical physicists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Find out more about training
- Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine
- (0061) 02 8305 3900 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.acpsem.org.nz
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting a job as a medical physicist are good due to:
- an ageing population with more health problems
- not enough people training as medical physicists to meet demand
- a high turnover, as medical physicists often leave to work overseas for better pay.
Medical physicist appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled medical physicists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 144 medical physicists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Most medical physicists work at hospitals
Medical physicists can also work for:
- universities and tertiary institutions (doing research and teaching)
- research institutes and laboratories
- medical equipment manufacturers.
- A Career in Radiation Oncology website, accessed May 2017, (www.acareerinradiationoncology.com).
- Canterbury District Health Board Careers website, accessed May 2017, (www.cdhbcareers.co.nz).
- FutureinTech website, accessed May 2017, (www.futureintech.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Health, 'National Entity Initiatives - 2016/2017 Annual Plans', 13 May 2016, (www.health.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Health, 'The National Radiation Oncology Plan 2017 to 2021', 12 May 2017, (www.health.govt.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- University of Auckland website, accessed May 2017, (www.auckland.ac.nz).
- University of Canterbury website, accessed May 2017, (www.canterbury.ac.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Medical physicists may progress to jobs in areas such as:
- teaching or research in universities
- making medical equipment
- consulting on new equipment and technology to be used in hospitals.
Last updated 16 September 2020