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Medical Physics

GSBS Medical Physics Program

The Medical Physics Graduate Program

Medical physics is a profession that combines principles of physics and engineering with those of biology and medicine to effect better diagnosis and treatment of human disease while ensuring the safety of the public, our patients and those caring for them.

The Medical Physics Graduate Program offers the Specialized Master of Science degree and the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees through the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Two UT components, UTHealth Houston and MD Anderson, jointly support the program, with the majority of faculty and students, as well as the program administration, working at MD Anderson.

The S.M.S. degree is a professional master's degree that prepares the student for clinical practice as a medical physicist. The Ph.D. degree is intended for the student who is preparing for a career that includes a strong research component. The two degree tracks have similar didactic curricula, but the S.M.S. research project is typically more clinically focused and shorter in duration than the research work for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.

In addition to the SMS and PhD degree programs in Medical Physics, the GSBS offers a Graduate Certificate in Medical Physics. The certificate program is intended for those who already have a PhD in physics or a related discipline and are interested in obtaining the didactic education in medical physics that is required by residency programs and by the American Board of Radiology. Some of the requirements for admission to this program are a PhD in physics or else a PhD in a related discipline plus at least a minor in physics and medical physics research experience at The University of Texas MD Anderson or UTHealth Houston.

Photo (Right): Functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tractography for presurgical evaluation of brain tumor resection (image courtesy of Anthony Liu, PhD)

Medical Physics Column Photo 1

Medical Physics Program Resources

  • Apply

    How to Apply

    Students who wish to study medical physics should apply online through the GSBS website

    When your application is complete (including all of the required documentation such as transcripts and letters of reference), the GSBS will forward it to the program admission committee for consideration. Strict adherence to the deadlines is advised.

    If you are applying to the Specialized Master of Science Program ("SMS"), which is our professionally oriented terminal master’s degree, select "M.S." as the Degree Plan. If you are applying to the M.S./Ph.D. program, select "Ph.D." as the Degree Plan, even if you expect to earn the M.S. degree on the way to the Ph.D. Most of our Ph.D. students take advantage of the opportunities that the Graduate School offers to by-pass the master’s degree en route to the Ph.D.

    Under Areas of Research Interest, you need not select secondary areas of study if your only interest in the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is our Medical Physics program.


    Review Process

    The program admission committee reviews applications on a rolling basis. Applicants who are especially promising will be invited to visit the GSBS and the program for an interview. Typically, more applicants are interviewed than can be offered admission.

    Over the course of the reviewing season, the program admission committee will recommend to the Dean of the GSBS that offers be extended to the highest ranking applicants. All of those offers will be honored through April 15. However, because our program has a maximum number of funded positions in the incoming class each year, applicants who accept another offer are asked to decline ours promptly so that another meritorious applicant may be extended an offer.


    We attempt to have interviewed every applicant to whom we make an offer. In extraordinary circumstances, this has been by telephone or over the Internet, but normally interviews are conducted in person in Houston. Ideally these would be during GSBS visitation events.

    The interview visit is a time for the program and the applicant to get to know each other even better than the application documents allow. Interviewees have a student host to guide them around and to talk about what the program is really like and what Houston is really like.

    The applicant typically will talk to half a dozen faculty members and at least as many students. The content of the interviews varies with the interests and attitudes of the interviewer, so the best advice that we can give for preparation is to know your facts (e.g., the title of your senior thesis project, if you are doing one) and to be yourself.

  • The Profession of Medical Physics

    The Profession of Medical Physics

    Medical physics is a field of study and practice that applies the facts and principles of physics and engineering to medical practice. It is distinct from biomedical engineering, biophysics and health physics in its focus on patient care. Medical physics is a profession because its practitioners work independently, albeit often as members of a health care team, and we take personal responsibility for the quality of our work.

    There are two main specialties within medical physics, therapy and imaging. Therapy is the delivery of ionizing radiation with palliative or curative intent and imaging uses ionizing and nonionizing radiation for diagnostic purposes. some medical physicists practice all aspects of medical physics, but specialization as a therapeutic radiological physicist, diagnostic radiological physicist, medical nuclear physicist or medical health physicist is becoming more typical.

    Medical physics requires a solid undergraduate preparation in physics or another technical discipline (for example, nuclear engineering) and graduate study. While many current medical physicists studied pure physics or related engineering subjects at the graduate level, increasingly graduate study in medical physics per se is now the predominant route of entry into the profession. Graduate programs in medical physics and residency programs in medical physics may be certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs (CAMPEP). Not only does CAMPEP accreditation betoken a high quality program, but graduation from a CAMPEP - accredited graduate program and a CAMPEP - accredited residency program are prerequisites to certification by the largest certifying board.

    Medical physicists demonstrate their preparation and professional competence by achieving certification. The predominant certifying board in the U.S. is the American Board of Radiology, which, along with the American Board of Health Physics and the American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine, administers certification examinations. These examinations typically consist of a written section covering basic medical physics, a second written section focusing on a particular specialty (e.g., therapeutic radiological physics, diagnostic radiological physics, medical nuclear physics, medical health physics, magnetic resonance imaging physics, or molecular imaging), and an oral examination. One may not take the examinations until one has earned appropriate educational credentials and has accumulated satisfactory practical experience through residency.

    A number of states in the U.S., of which the first was Texas, license medical physics as a profession. They do this as a means of protecting the public safety and welfare. In Texas, one may not practice medical physics without a license. Texas issues temporary licenses to medical physicists who are preparing for their certification examinations by gaining practical experience, either as on-the-job training or in a clinical physics residency program. Temporary licensees must practice under the direct supervision of a fully licensed medical physicist. Medical physicists with full licenses may practice their licensed specialty independently, their preparation for which is demonstrated by education, by experience and by board certification.

    Medical physicists in the U.S. have one primary professional organization, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM). Many medical societies also welcome medical physicists and have strong and active membership among medical physicists.

    Medical physicists might practice privately — often consulting for several institutions — or work on a hospital staff or in an academic healthcare institution. We work closely with radiation oncologists, radiologists, nuclear medicine physicians, dosimetrists, nurses, a variety of medical technology specialists and hospital administrators. Our work requires strong scientific and technical abilities, clear communication, good people skills and the capability to work carefully, accurately, thoroughly and promptly. People's well-being depends upon the quality of our work.

    To learn more about the profession of medical physics, visit

    Among the journals that publish the research work of medical physicists are

Robert J. Shalek Fellowship

In the period between 1950 and 1984, Robert J. Shalek, for whom this fellowship is named, worked at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. During that time the institution grew from small beginnings in temporary buildings to a leading cancer center with a large physical plant and over 6,000 employees.

During the same period medical physics, which had started in the United States around 1915, but had languished as a profession, took guidance from the well-developed British example and grew into a confident and respected profession. Dr. Shalek was shaped by and contributed to these events.

Following Drs. Leonard Grimmett and Warren Sinclair, both very experienced medical physicists from England, he served as head, or chairman, of the Physics Department from 1960 to 1984. Under his direction, the department became recognized as a major research and teaching center in medical physics.

Click here to learn more about Robert J. Shalek Fellowship

Medical Physics Information

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Contact Us


Rebecca M. Howell, PhD, Professor

Program Director
Department of Radiation Physics
[email protected]


A. Kyle Jones, PhD, Professor

Deputy Program Director
Department of Imaging Physics
[email protected]

Lawrence E. Court, PhD

Laurence Court, PhD, Associate Professor

Director of Program Admissions
Department of Radiation Physics
[email protected]

Richard Wendt III, PhD

Richard Wendt III, PhD, Professor

Program Director, 2013-2022
Department of Imaging Physics
MD Anderson Cancer Center
1515 Holcombe Blvd., Unit 1352
Houston, Texas 77030
[email protected]

Photo (Left): The IROC-Houston IMRT head & neck phantom about to be scanned in a CT simulator during the COVID-19 pandemic (photo courtesy of Sharbacha Edward)