clinical medical physics, professionalism

A guide to explaining clinical medical physics to a non-physicist

Whether you’re a first year graduate student in medical physics, a resident, or working in the field already, you’ve probably been asked the question: “What is a medical physicist?”. In this blog post, we’ll discuss a good elevator pitch for physicists to non-physicists and give you a quick and easy breakdown of the expectations and ideas administrators and colleagues have for medical physicists. In addition, we’ll give you tips on professionalism and how to exert confidence when starting out in your career.

 Elevator pitch to a non-physicist

An elevator pitch can be used to explain your career to a non-physicist, make an impression on a potential employer, or start a conversation with potential collaborator. The elevator pitch is designed to deliver a succinct answer to the questions: “Who are you?,” “What contributions do/can you make?,” and “What are your goals?”

The goal of the pitch to a non-physicist will be mainly to explain: “What does a clinical medical physicist do?” The AAPM Virtual Pressroom has a great description of medical physicists, which can be condensed to these major points:

Medical physicists’ responsibilities include:

  • radiation safety for patients and staff through scheduled measurements and patient/staff education
  • machine standardization and reproducibility through daily, monthly, and annual testing
  • improvement of patient outcome through development of new techniques in medical imaging or radiation treatment

 Expectations of a clinical physicist

Perhaps the “elephant in the room” is that aspiring physicists don’t always have a clear idea of the expectations of a medical physicist. The potentially murky terms of  “quality control” and “quality assurance” (which are clarified here) can make explaining medical physics a non-trivial task. In this section, we’ve outlined some of the expectations of your colleagues and administrators. These expectations can help you to craft your pitch further and adequately answer follow-up questions.

The position of a medical physicist is detailed by the American College of Radiology and the role of a medical physicist in clinical practice has been defined by the AAPM  in AAPM Reports No. 38 and No. 42. Medical physicists may obtain membership as “medical staff” or  be considered “professional staff.”

General expectations of a clinical physicist include:

Administrators/supervisors Colleagues
  • provide expert consulting and implement cost-reducing strategies
  • provide protection against litigation via quality assurance programs
  • understand and observe national and state regulations
  • negotiate performance standards and costs during equipment purchase
  • perform acceptance testing, commissioning, and QC of new and existing equipment
  • quality improvement in protocols (especially imaging) to accommodate high throughput and high quality in patient care
  • prevent patient/employee overexposure through monitoring, consultation, and education



  • understand clinical workflow
  • consult with health practitioners and allied health personnel
  • maintain calibrated equipment and analyze system performance (recognize artifacts, acceptance testing)
  • organize and supervise QA/QC programs
  • organize and supervise radiation safety programs
  • be involved in development of new clinical protocols
  • coordinate and/or manage technician training in safety and new protocols
  • observe ethical standards and professional conduct
  • support and involvement in the training of other physicists

Professionalism tips

When explaining yourself to new non-physicists or interacting with well-known colleagues, it is always important to maintain the appropriate attitude, courtesy, and discretion – these aspects of conduct are termed “professionalism.” Professionalism extends to relationships between colleagues and patients, personal behavior, conflicts of interest, ethics in research, publication and education, and relationships with vendors. Modules on ethics and professionalism are available online through the AAPM and ABR.

Professionalism includes:

  1. Accountability
  2. Honor and integrity
  3. Respect for others (including patient consent and confidentiality)
  4. Excellence and continued education and commitment to the field

These components of professional conduct support the mission of quality management in clinical physics and present medical physics as a respectable profession.


Hopefully, this post has helped to clarify your intended role as a clinical medical physicist. Keep in mind that we are undergoing (and have undergone) highly specialized coursework and intensive training – we’ve learned a lot, and quickly! Your pitch is your chance to teach your family, friends, and non-physics acquaintances about your intended career and potential contributions.

In our next post, we will highlight crafting an elevator pitch to a potential employer and networking opportunities at the AAPM Annual Meeting!


Scope and Practice of Medical Physics. Policy No. PP17-B

AAPM Code of Ethics. Policy No. PP24-C

ABR Foundation Ethics and Professionalism Modules

“Medical Physics Clinical Skills Workbook for Therapy Physics.” Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, College of Health Professions. October 2012.

Quality Management in Medical Physics: General Concepts. Thomadsen, Bruce . 2004.

Guide to Medical Physics Practice. American College of Radiology, Subcommittee of the Standards & Accreditation Committee of the Commission on Medical Physics.

AAPM Report No. 38: The role of a physicist in radiation oncology.

AAPM Report No. 42: The role of clinical medical physicist in diagnostic radiology.

Professionalism in medicine: definitions and considerations for teaching.



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