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Physician vs. Physicist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Both physicians and physicists are highly educated professionals with the potential to make a significant impact in their field. If you’re interested in a career in science or medicine, learning about the similarities and differences between these two professions can help you decide which is the right fit for you. In this article, we compare and contrast physicians and physicists, and we provide information on what you can expect from each profession.

What is a Physician?

A Physician is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats patients for a wide range of injuries, illnesses and diseases. Physicians typically work in hospitals, clinics or private practices. They conduct physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and provide treatments. Physicians also counsel patients on healthy lifestyle choices, disease prevention and other medical concerns. They may also conduct research to develop new treatments or cures for medical conditions.

What is a Physicist?

Physicists are scientists who study the nature and properties of matter and energy. They conduct research to understand how the universe works and develop new and improved technologies. Physicists typically specialize in one area of physics, such as mechanics, optics, thermodynamics or electromagnetism. They use their knowledge of physics to solve problems in a variety of fields, such as medicine, engineering and astrophysics. Physicists often work in laboratories, using sophisticated equipment to conduct experiments and make observations. They also develop theories and models to explain their findings and share their research with other scientists through publications.

Physician vs. Physicist

Here are the main differences between a physician and a physicist.

Job Duties

Physician duties can vary depending on their specialty, but they typically involve diagnosing and treating patients. These professionals take patient histories, perform physical exams, order lab tests and diagnose illnesses. Physicians prescribe medications and advise patients on lifestyle changes that can improve their health.

Physicists conduct research to advance knowledge in their field. They may work in laboratories or classrooms, depending on their position. Physicists with teaching positions help students learn complex concepts and apply what they’ve learned to real-world scenarios. Physicists who work in labs may spend days or weeks conducting experiments. They analyze the results of these experiments and write reports that detail their findings.

Job Requirements

Physicians must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as pre-medicine or biology, before attending medical school. Once they have earned their Medical Doctor degree, physicians must participate in a residency program to complete their training, which could take several years. Finally, physicians must obtain licensure from the state they plan to practice and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Physicists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in physics for entry-level positions. However, many research jobs require a master’s degree or doctorate. Physics programs often include coursework in calculus, differential equations and other advanced mathematics subjects. Some physicists also pursue engineering degrees to learn how to apply their knowledge of physics to practical problems.

Work Environment

Physicists typically work in laboratories, research facilities or universities. They may also work for private companies that develop products related to physics. Physicists often spend long hours working on projects and conducting experiments.

Physicians usually work in hospitals, clinics or other medical facilities. Physicians who work in emergency rooms or urgent care centers may have irregular schedules because of the nature of their jobs. Physicians who work in private practices may have more regular schedules but still face long work days.


Both physicians and physicists need to have excellent problem-solving skills. Physicians use these skills when diagnosing patients by reviewing their symptoms and medical history and ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests. They also need to be able to effectively communicate with patients and their families to explain diagnoses and treatment options. Physicists need problem-solving skills to develop theories about how the universe works and to design experiments to test their hypotheses.

Both of these professions require a great deal of knowledge in their respective fields. Physicians need to know about human anatomy, physiology and pathology, as well as medications and treatments. Physicists need to understand complex mathematics and physics concepts. Both groups of professionals also need to be able to keep up with new developments in their field by reading research papers and attending conferences.


The average salary for a physician is $204,276 per year, while the average salary for a physicist is $104,477 per year. The average salary for a physician can vary depending on the type of physician you are, your level of experience and the location of your practice. The average salary for a physicist can vary depending on the type of physicist you are, your level of experience and the location of your practice.


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