Medical Physicist: An Unknown Scientist in Health Care
Sajeev Thomas Ph.D, M.Sc.RP, MIPEM
Christian Institute of Health Sciences and Research, Dimapur, India
Medical physicists are scientists in healthcare who play an important role in diagnosis and therapy. The American Association of Physicists in Medicine(AAPM) defines physicists as unique experts and scientific agents of precision and innovation in the development and practice of modern medicine. They are responsible for the commissioning, design, and development of treatment protocols and procedures in radiation medicine. They design and supervise the radiation treatment ensuring quality and accuracy, also deliver expert consultations to radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons, radiologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and other healthcare professionals.
They are responsible for the selection, acceptance testing, and commissioning of equipment and treatment protocols in radiation therapy, radiology imaging, and nuclear medicine. Their expert knowledge bridges the application of science and technology to healthcare. Many of the advanced equipment used in healthcare are developed by physicists in medicine.
As many of the competencies of the medical physicists are not available with other healthcare professionals such as physicians or surgeons, they play an important role in the practice of modern medicine. There are medical physics subspecialists contributing in highly advanced areas such as Radiosurgery, proton therapy, etc.
International Labour Organisation(ILO) and International Standard Classification of Occupation(ISCO-08), recognize medical physicists (group 2269) as health care professionals along with medical doctors and nurses. American Board of Radiology, the professional body that certifies the radiation oncologists and radiologists also certifies the medical physicists in the united states.
Medical Physicist has the approved status of health care professional in the majority of the developed countries. However, many of the member countries of the International Labour Organization in the developing world are yet to recognize this profession as a healthcare professional.
Medical Physicists with Radiation Safety Officer Level-3 certification are one of the essential workforce requirements for the procurement, commissioning licensing, and operation of radiation therapy units in India. Moreover, Radiation protection rule(RPR2004) mandates the functioning of the RSO directly under the Employer/ Head of the institute.
As the application of physics and technology plays an important role in healthcare, the role of medical physicists in developing countries also needs to be escalated to the designer and developer level. Therefore the establishment of the ‘Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering’ department in hospitals to be considered as a step towards the future. Moreover, there needs to be changes in the current educational programs and initiatives for leadership training as per the current requirements.
International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) has published clear guidelines for the training and accreditation of medical physicists to be followed by member countries. This is more significant as the success of the cancer treatment program depends on the quality and accuracy standards set by the medical physicists.
Moreover, radiation treatment is a multidisciplinary approach, where bridging science and technology to medicine is the responsibility of medical physicists, which cannot be substituted by any other professionals. Therefore, the Medical Physicist profession deserves proper recognition as a healthcare professional.