clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #5/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Regulation

A career in regulation can include many different roles at different government agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). At the FDA, medical physicists work as scientific reviewers of the safety and effectiveness of new or modified diagnostic imaging, radiation therapy, and image processing devices prior to entry in the market. Physicists at the FDA may also conduct original scientific research and can be involved in the development of new policies and regulations. Some positions at the NRC include licensing new medical devices, inspecting hospital compliance with regulations, and setting new licensing guidelines for emerging technologies. Physicists employed at NIST primarily work on providing calibration standards for ionization chambers and electrometers used for radiation oncology and nuclear medicine, but also work on phantom standardization as well as research and calibration standards for non-ionizing radiation applications.

The need for supplemental training for regulatory positions depends on the position. Clinical regulations experience is highly valued for a career at the FDA or NRC. Experience can be gained by helping with machine quality assurance, attending radiation safety meetings, volunteering for root cause analysis or event investigation teams, and reading NRC and FDA reports (e.g., event reports, significant enforcement actions, information notices). Additionally, students may encounter regulatory aspects in their research, especially in research focused on areas using radioactive materials regulated by the NRC or machines regulated by the FDA. Finally, additional coursework to pursue include health physics, radiation detection, and regulations.

Careers at the NRC typically require a master’s degree, and additional certifications such as American Board of Radiology (ABR) and Certified Health Physicist (CHP), while beneficial, are not required. NIST strongly recommends applicants have a doctoral degree and does not have a history of requiring additional certifications. The FDA has positions for physicists with master’s and doctoral degrees. In some of these positions, an understanding and experience of clinical applications is highly recommended. This experience could range from completing a residency (CAMPEP accredited or not), volunteering at a clinic, attending radiation safety meetings, and being involved with the clinic or regulations as part of a research project. Additionally, all of these agencies offer internship programs for students to gain experience in regulatory work.

The salary and benefits for the FDA, NIST, and NRC are typically less than that of a clinical position, but the benefits for federal employees are recognized as some of the best in the country. Additionally, employees interviewed for this work (4 professionals at 4 different regulatory organizations) described travel, flexible work hours, and a satisfying work-life balance to be among the benefits [1]. According to the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey, medical physicists performing primarily regulatory and standards duties with a master’s degree and without certification (median 5 years of experience) self-reported an average salary of $123,900 [2]. This self-reported salary increased to $175,200 for physicists with a master’s degree and certification (certification type unspecified; median 20 years of experience). For physicists with a doctoral degree with and without certification, the self-reported average salary was $176,700 and $180,300, respectively (median 20 and 18 years of experience).


[1] Unpublished WGNCMP interviews conducted with professionals having experience with non-clinical careers.
[2] AAPM (2018). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017.


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