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How to become a medical physicist

You’ll need to complete a postgraduate-level work-based training programme to become a medical physicist in the NHS.

What is a medical physicist?

Medical physicists use their knowledge of physics to bring together scientific methods and clinical technology to help diagnose illnesses and treat patients. It could include installing and testing new equipment to improve cancer treatment or developing new imaging techniques to track organ function.

Medical physicists work in lots of areas, including:

  • radiotherapy
  • radiation protection
  • imaging physics
  • non-ionising radiation
  • nuclear medicine physics
  • medical equipment management

To work in the NHS, medical physicists must register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as clinical scientists.

Starting your career as a medical physicist

Choosing subjects at school

School subjects that could lead to a career as a clinical engineer include:

  • Maths
  • English
  • Physics
  • Engineering Science
  • Computing Science
  • Biology

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

Starting your career as a medical physicist in the NHS is an amazing opportunity! You'll complete a postgraduate-level work-based training programme, which will set you on the path to success.

Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme

As a trainee medical physicist, you’ll complete the Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme.

During the training programme, you’ll do a master’s degree at SCQF level 11 in your first year. You’ll then have the opportunity to work in different areas of medical physics to get experience. In your final year of training, you’ll choose an area to specialise in or lead an innovation project related to your chosen specialism.

Once you complete your training, you’ll register as a clinical scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

You can apply for training opportunities on our recruitment website. To apply, you'll need an undergraduate honours degree at SCQF level 10 in one of the following subjects:

  • Physics
  • Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering

Search for university degree programmes on My World of Work.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP).

Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Get to know the role

As a medical physicist, you’ll use a range of equipment to help prevent, treat, or diagnose medical conditions in patients.

The day-to-day tasks you'll do will depend on the specialist area you're working in.


In radiotherapy physics, you’ll be responsible for the precision and accuracy of radiotherapy treatment. Radiotherapy involves targeting radiation beams to kill cancerous tumours.

Some typical tasks include:

  • using computer calculations to develop individual treatment plans for patients
  • planning treatment to target the tumour while making sure the radiation dose to the surrounding tissue is minimised
  • precision calibrating of radiotherapy equipment

Nuclear medicine

Nuclear medicine is the use of radioactive substances to help diagnose and treat patients. This involves using small amounts of these substances, called radiolabelled pharmaceuticals, to look at what is happening inside the body.

Some typical tasks include:

  • administering radiolabelled pharmaceuticals to patients
  • taking images and measurements using highly sophisticated equipment
  • interpret the results as part of a multidisciplinary team

Radiation protection

Radiation protection is making sure that the environment and equipment used in radiation treatment is safe for both patients and the staff using it.

Some typical tasks include:

  • testing equipment
  • advising staff on the safe use of radiation equipment
  • use specialised equipment to measure and calculate the doses of radiation received by patients during treatment and by the staff delivering it

Non-ionising imaging

Non-ionising imaging includes ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and optical imaging. Non-ionising imaging techniques are generally safe, and can also include other treatment methods, including ultraviolet treatments for skin conditions and laser surgery.

You’ll work with a variety of imaging techniques, including:

  • ultrasound – using high-frequency soundwaves to create real-time images of parts of the body
  • MRI – using a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the patient, particularly soft tissues and parts of the central nervous system
  • optical imaging – using the physical properties of light to help diagnose illnesses, by measuring how tissues react when different wavelengths of light are shone onto them

Imaging physics

Imaging using ionising radiation includes diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology and nuclear medicine.

You’ll work with a variety of imaging techniques, including:

  • x-ray imaging – using x-rays to create a 2D image of a part of the patient
  • fluoroscopic x-ray imaging – using x-rays to create a real-time image of the patient
  • computed tomography (CT) imaging – using x-rays while rotating the patient to create a cross-sectional image of a part of the patient
  • nuclear medicine imaging – using scanners to detect the movement of radiolabelled pharmaceuticals through the patient’s body, providing information on how their body is functioning

Useful skills for a medical physicist include:

  • communicating
  • collaborating
  • focussing
  • leadership
  • problem-solving
  • working with technology

You’ll also be expected to know how to use specialist equipment and software.

It’s likely that you’ll work in a multidisciplinary team, which could include:

  • clinical engineers
  • clinical technologists
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • radiographers
  • radiologists
  • sonographers

As a medical physicist, you’ll likely work in a hospital setting.

Learning and development

As a medical physicist, you’re expected to undertake continuous professional development (CPD) activities to:

  • keep your knowledge and skills up to date
  • maintain your registration with the HCPC

Clinical scientists must meet the HCPC’s standards for CPD. Learn more about the HCPC’s guidance on CPD activities.

Career progression

During your career as a medical physicist, you can also work towards additional qualifications, such as:

  • higher specialist development
  • PhDs and professional doctorates

Gaining qualifications will help your career prospects, leading to more senior roles or the chance to advance to specialised areas of service.

Professional bodies

Medical physicists must be registered with the HCPC to work in the NHS. They may also be affiliated with the following professional bodies:

  • Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS)
  • Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS)
  • Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)
  • Other chartered professional bodies 

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