About a medical physicist

Medical physicists are health care professionals with specialized training in the medical applications of physics.  A qualified medical physicist must have completed the minimum training requirements for medical physics, which are subject to national or regional regulations. They include:

  • Academic training in physics and medical physics;
  • Adequate supervised clinical training in an appropriate hospital environment.

The work of a Medical Physicist involves the use of radioisotopes, x-rays, ultrasound, magnetic and electric fields in diagnosis and therapy. Most medical physicists work in hospital diagnostic imaging departments, cancer treatment facilities, or hospital-based research establishments. Others work in the universities.

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.

 
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 analyze 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.

 
Teaching

Often medical physicists have faculty appointments at universities and colleges, where they help train future medical physicists, resident physicians, medical students, and technologists who operate the various types of equipment used to perform diagnosis and treatment. They also conduct courses in medical physics and aspects of biophysics and radiobiology for a variety of gradu­ate and undergraduate students.

Medical physicists are eligible for certification while enrolled in a residency program or after they begin their practice. Once certified, they are considered qualified medical physicists. Certification is offered in four areas of medical physics, including therapeutic radiological physics, diagnostic radiological physics, medical nuclear physics and medical health physics. Certification in Ghana is provided by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Allied Health Professions Council in Ghana. The Allied Health Professions Council is the body established by an Act of Parliament (Act 857, 2013) to regulate the training and practice of Allied Health Professions in Ghana.

The certification process involves passing physics and clinical examinations organized by the Allied Health Professions Council in Ghana. To register for exams, candidates need an MPhil, or a doctoral degree in medical physics.

The written examinations consist the three areas of medical physics: Radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, and diagnostic radiology.