What is the difference between MSc Medical Imaging and MSc Medical Physics?

What is the difference between MSc Medical Imaging and MSc Medical Physics?
2021-10-26

Hi, my name is Andy Welch and I coordinate the MSc Medical Physics and MSc Medical Imaging programmes here at the University of Aberdeen. One of the questions that I often get asked by potential students is the difference between the two programmes. The term Medical Physics is fairly well understood by most people thinking about taking a Masters in the area, but Medical Imaging is quite a broad term that can cover more academic programmes (like ours) as well as more vocational (practical) programmes. In this blog post, I want to set out the similarities and differences on the two programmes, the basic philosophy behind them and the type of students to which they might appeal as well as some of the career options that are open to our graduates. 

Both of these MSc programmes are designed to give the student a deep understanding of the applications of physics and technology to healthcare. They are both “academic” as opposed to “practical” programmes i.e. they are not designed to teach you how to operate the equipment but instead are focussed on its clinical and research uses and are taught by staff who work in the hospital and those who are at the forefront of research in the area.

While there are some courses (particularly in the first term) that are common to both programmes, there are differences in terms of the content, accreditation, intended audience, entrance requirements, fees and in the project phase.

MSc Medical Physics covers a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic applications of technology to healthcare (including, for example, radiotherapy) while MSc Medical Imaging (as the name implies) is focussed on the diagnostic applications.

MSc Medical Physics has been designed with the training needs of Medical Physicists working in the NHS in mind, although it is also relevant to other students. It is accredited by the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) and can form the academic part of the training programme for Medical Physicists in Scotland. Note that it only forms the academic part of the required training and further clinical training (either through a formal training programme or on-the-job) is required after completing the Masters before a candidate can apply for registration with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) as a Clinical Scientist.

Although the Medical Physics programme is designed with the needs of NHS Medical Physicists in mind, it is also relevant to students who are considering other career options. This includes international students working in a similar area in their own country, those looking at other clinical careers (such as dosimetrists etc), those considering going on to do a PhD and those looking for a career in industry.

MSc Medical Imaging is designed for students who will go on to work in a Medical Imaging environment, either in a hospital, in academia or in industry, and in particular those who will be looking to carry out research as part of their job. This may include technologists or radiographers who are looking to access the higher grades in their profession where research is increasingly forming part of the job, as well as those looking for careers in a university or commercial setting. Students may be those who are already working in these areas and are looking to improve their knowledge or those who are looking to go on to a career in these areas.

Since MSc Medical Physics involves courses that delve more deeply into the maths and physics of the techniques it is restricted to students with a first degree in physics, maths or engineering. While MSc Medical Imaging does also involve a significant amount of maths and physics, the relevant topics are taught in the first term and this programme is therefore also open to students with a “life sciences” background.

In the final phase of MSc Medical Imaging, students carry out a systematic literature review for their final project. A systematic review is considered to be the highest level of evidence and gives the students a thorough grounding in research methods while also allowing the flexibility to pursue an area that is of interest to them. On the other hand, students studying MSc Medical Physics will be allocated to one of the projects offered by either the clinical or research staff. These projects are hypothesis driven and include an element of either experimental, theoretical or computational work. The difference in the project phase leads to a difference in fee structure, with MSc Medical Physics being classed as “laboratory based” while MSc Medical Imaging is classed as “classroom based”. However, it is only really in this final phase where there is a significant difference in this regard. The taught courses on both programmes are mainly classroom based although there may be opportunities to visit the hospital and to carry out practical sessions in either a laboratory or clinical setting.

If you are interested in studying either of these programmes, visit our online prospectus pages to find out more about our MSc Medical Physics and MSc Medical Imaging programmes. You can also contact Prof Andy Welch at a.welch@abdn.ac.uk.

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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