Heather – Senior medical physicist

Heather combines her interests in human biology and medical technology to work as a Medical Physicist. Think you’ve got what it takes? Read on to find out more about Heather’s career.


What attracted you to this job?

Of all the subjects I covered at school, I found physics most fascinating. Being a Medical Physicist involves applying that understanding to human biology, medical technology, and the interaction between the two.

What does your typical day involve?

There is no typical day! I’m part of a team of physicists responsible for 5 gamma cameras (2 with CT), a PETCT scanner, and associated computers and equipment. It’s our job to make sure it all works properly so the medics get good quality images of what’s going on in the patient. I have various R&D (research and development) projects I’m working on but if anything plays up, we’re their first port of call, so it can change dramatically from what I intended to do!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Knowing that every patient in our waiting room today will benefit from me doing my job well.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

They’re glad I’ve found something I find satisfying and am using my knowledge to a positive end, but I don’t think they understand the detail!

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

Being a Clinical Scientist in the NHS is quite flexible in terms of work-life balance, I currently work 3 days a week as I have two pre-school children and it was quite easy to negotiate this. However, we are short-staffed at the moment (due to the way the current ‘efficiency savings’ have been implemented – don’t get me started!) so I work non-stop when I’m at the hospital and do unpaid overtime pretty much every day.

How did you get to where you are today? (i.e. qualifications and career route)

I did a BSc degree in Physics with Medical Physics at Nottingham, secured a place on the Part I training scheme for Clinical Scientists in Manchester (which included an MSc from Manchester), then did a PhD in Positron Emission Tomography (not strictly needed for my career but the skills gained have come in very handy) before applying for my current job.

What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field?

Work as hard as you can, and get the best grades you can, particularly in the sciences. Get yourself work experience in a hospital and preferably in a Medical Physics department, so you know what you’re letting yourself in for and can write training scheme applications that demonstrate this – getting on Part I is very competitive. If you don’t get in on the first round of applications, consider doing a relevant PhD and applying afterwards.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

The starting salary is about £17k, the same as a trainee teacher. I would say you should expect to earn £30-£50k when fully qualified, depending on your level of responsibility. Heads of department earn £60-70k, some earn more if they are in charge of very large departments. It’s a very good wage, I don’t think more is justified in the public sector.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I enjoy spending time with my family, ‘playing out’ with the boys is always good fun, as is crashing in front of a good movie with my husband. There’s not much time left for me to do stuff on my own, but I play the cello and keep fit by cycling, running and doing Pilates.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

I modified a catering size (35l) mango chutney barrel to do some tests on one of our cameras using a “patient-sized” object. I filled it with water to test it for leaks, went away for an hour and came back to find the barrel empty and the lab an inch deep in water. It took me 2 hours to mop it all up!