Definition of a Medical Physicist (MP)
According to the definition of the International Basic Safety Standards (BSS) , is “a health professional, with specialist education and training in the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine, and competent to practise independently in one or more of the subfields (specialties) of medical physics.”
Qualifications of a Medical Physicist
Medical physicists must have received appropriate undergraduate education in physical or engineering sciences, followed by a professional competency training that includes an additional period of 1–3 years of academic education in medical physics at the postgraduate level. In order to become a clinically qualified medical physicist (CQMP), the academic training at the postgraduate level must be followed by at least two additional years of structured practical training in a clinical environment, in one or more specialties of medical physics. Overall, the academic education and clinical training should extend over a minimum period of, typically, seven years. Medical physicists that have completed an academic programme and work or do research in a non-clinical environment will require additional appropriate training to become CQMPs. The education and training of medical physicists should be recognized by a national or international accreditation body.
Scope of Practice for a Medical Physicist (common for all specialisations)
Medical physicists contribute to the safe and effective use of radiation in order to achieve the best diagnostic or therapeutic outcome of the prescribed medical procedure. To achieve this, they:
• Evaluate practices that involve medical exposure and optimize the physical aspects of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in terms of benefits and risks.
• Calibrate imaging equipment to ensure accurate and safe delivery of radiation to patients.
• Implement appropriate quality assurance programmes, including quality control measures.
• Assess radiation doses and associated risks to patients (especially for pregnant women and children) and personnel.
Most medical physicists work in cancer treatment facilities, hospital diagnostic imaging departments or hospital-based research establishments, and mostly specialize in three areas of activity: clinical service and consultation, research and development, and teaching.
The three core areas where medical physicist practice:
Clinical service and consultation
• The Medical Physicist’s work often involves the use of x-rays, ultrasound, radioisotopes, magnetic and electric fields in diagnosis and therapy. These activities take the form of clinical consultations with health other professionals. In radiotherapy departments, physicists have a central role in planning individual patients’ radiation treatment using either external radiation beams or internally placed radioactive sources.
• Medical Physicists also have a role to play in diagnostics. For example, they might analyse nuclear medical image data to determine important physiological variables, such as metabolic rates or blood flow.
• Physicists provide an essential radiation protection and radiation safety service, providing scientific and technical consultancy on the design of radiation facilities and the safe handling, storage and disposal of radioactive materials.
• Similar consultancy services are provided for the specification, procurement and acceptance testing of complex and expensive medical equipment including radiotherapy linear accelerators and imaging equipment such as X-ray CT scanners and MRI scanners.
• Another important clinical duty of the medical physicist is to design and manage quality assurance and preventative maintenance programmes (often in close collaboration with manufacturers) to ensure that equipment remains safe and accurate.
• Finally, the specialist clinical scientific and technical knowledge of the physicist is frequently called upon to diagnose faults and problems that arise with such specialized and complex equipment.
Research and Development
Medical physicists are also involved at the frontiers of research at all levels:
• Basic, theoretical studies into new physical concepts that might be used for diagnosis and treatment
• Development and testing of equipment
• The conduct of clinical trials of new imaging and treatment techniques.
• Medical research work is almost always highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary. Collaborations typically involve basic scientists in universities, equipment manufactures and a range of different medical professionals, including radiographers, radiologists and radiation oncologists.
• The recent rapid technical developments in equipment used in medical imaging and therapy mean that there is always a need for applied research and development work within hospitals. Finding the optimum way to use new equipment and designing practical and robust methods for implementing technology in a busy clinical workplace are challenges that face most medical physicists are some stage.