Home < Degrees < Medical Physics

Medical Physics

Administrative Unit:Medical Physics
College/School: School of Medicine and Public Health
Admitting Plans:M.S., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Ph.D. Minor

Faculty: Professors Zagzebski (chair), DeJesus, DeLuca, DeWerd, Hall, Henderson, Holden, Korosec, Mackie, Madsen, Meyerand, Mistretta, Nickles, Paliwal, Peppler, Thomadsen, Tome, Wakai; Associate Professors Alexander, Block, Campagnola, Chen, Christian, Fain, Jeraj, Ranallo, Ritter, Van Lysel, Varghese, Vetter; Assistant Professors Cai, Davis, Emborg, Kissick, Smilowitz, Wieben


One of the basic science departments of the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, the Department of Medical Physics offers comprehensive training in diagnostic and therapeutic medical physics and in health physics. Achievement of the M.S. or Ph.D. in this department reflects strong scholarship in one of the top medical physics programs in the United States. Graduates are prepared for teaching, research, and clinical physics positions in medical centers, national laboratories, and universities, and in the medical and nuclear technology industries.

Medical physicists may participate professionally in the radiation treatment of cancer patients, in advanced medical imaging and diagnostic procedures, or in related research and teaching. Health physicists may operate radiation protection programs at nuclear industrial facilities, hospitals, or laboratories, or may perform research on methods of measuring ionizing radiations (i.e., dosimetry).

A unique quality of the medical physics program is the broad range of expertise and research interests of the faculty. Students receive training in diagnostic x-ray physics, x-ray computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy, nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, biomagnetism, medical ultrasound, elastography, radiation dosimetry, radiation treatment planning, and radiobiology. The program is designed so that students may emphasize radiological physics, health physics, or medical imaging in the terminal degree. It should be noted that the M.S. in medical physics with an emphasis in any of these areas is a viable degree that provides access to many employment opportunities in the field.

The Ph.D. is primarily a research degree that extends the student's depth of knowledge in one of the specialty areas. Faculty positions at universities, research positions, and an increasing number of clinical physics positions require the Ph.D. degree. Medical physics faculty maintain close collaborative ties with faculty in other departments, including human oncology, radiology, cardiology, and pharmacology, broadening the scope of research opportunities open to medical physics students and providing access to sophisticated clinical facilities.

The department also operates a Radiation Calibration service and an Accredited Dosimetry Calibration Laboratory, one of four in the U.S. accredited by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. In addition, the department provides clinical support services to the radiology and radiation oncology departments. It also operates a PET radiotracer production facilty, a medical image analysis laboratory, and a small bore MRI scanner in the medical school's small animal imaging laboratory. Each of these facilities provides unique training and support for graduate students.

B.S. in Nuclear Engineering and M.S. in Medical Physics Dual Degree Program 

The B.S.–M.S. dual degree program allows qualified students to get a headstart on graduate study. Students earn both the B.S. (in nuclear engineering) and M.S. (in medical physics) degrees simultaneously in about five years with a net credit reduction of 4 credits compared with doing the two programs separately. It is aimed primarily at students wishing to obtain a terminal M.S. degree in medical physics, but it also may be advantageous for students considering the Ph.D. degree in medical physics.

Ph.D. Minor 

A candidate for the Ph.D. in another department who wishes to minor in medical physics is required to elect a minimum of 10 credits. The medical physics graduate committee chair should be consulted for detailed information.

Financial Aid 

The department typically supports 85-90 percent of students enrolled in the medical physics graduate program through department or university fellowships, research or teaching assistantships, or NIH-NRSA traineeships. All awards include a comprehensive health insurance program and remission of tuition. The student is responsible for segregated fees.


About 150 applicants per year are attracted to the medical physics program. Each fall the program admits 20-25 students based on academic record. This results in an average enrollment of 100 students each semester. Approximately one-fourth of the students pursue the M.S. degree as a terminal degree, and the remainder continue on to the Ph.D.

A bachelor's degree in physics is considered the best preparation for graduate study in medical physics, but majors such as nuclear engineering, electrical engineering, or chemistry may also be acceptable. The student's math background should include calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and Fourier analysis, such as might be learned in modern optics or undergraduate quantum theory. Some facility in computer programming and electronic instrumentation is desirable. Chemistry through organic, a year of biology, and an introductory course in physiology are also advantageous.

Beginning graduate students should start their studies in the fall semester, as the course sequence is based on that assumption. Students applying for admission should submit an online application and all supporting documentation by December 1 (for Domestic Applications, International Applications are due November 15), to ensure consideration for admission and financial support to begin the following fall.

Admission to the graduate program is competitive. Applications are judged on the basis of a student's previous academic record, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, research experience, letters of recommendation, and personal statement of reasons for graduate study.

The application process is in two parts:

  1. Complete the online application to the Graduate School and pay application fee.
  2. Provide electronic copies of resume (include awards, fellowships, and scholarships received, publications, volunteer activities, and research experience); the "applicant data sheet"; statement of reasons for interest in graduate study in medical physics; and mail two official sets of paper transcripts to the department. (Note: Recommendation letters are submitted electronically through the online application. To report Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, use Institution Code 1846 for the University of Wisconsin–Madison.)

For more information: Graduate Program Secretary, Department of Medical Physics, 1005 Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR), 1111 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705-2275; 608-265-6504; datorger@wisc.edu; www.medphysics.wisc.edu.