Q&A with a Medical Physicist — Celebrating the International Day of Medical Physics
Behind the radiation machines used to fight cancer are specialized scientists who bring together medicine and physics to keep patients safe. These highly-trained health professionals play a key role in maximizing the benefits of radiation medicine while reducing the potential for harm.
To celebrate the International Day of Medical Physics today and its aim to raise public awareness about medical physics, Ahmed Meghzifene, Head of the Dosimetry and Medical Radiation Physics Section at IAEA, answered a few questions about medical physicists and what they do and how the IAEA contributes to their work.
What is a medical physicist?
Medical physicists (MP) are well-trained specialists who work with very sophisticated technology used in radiation medicine to diagnose and treat patients with diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases. MPs need to have knowledge of both the human body and physics principles, and how to apply these principles for diagnosing or treating patients. So in some sense, an MP is a bridge that connects medicine and physics.
A doctor working in radiation medicine practices medicine and is focused mainly with the diagnosis and treatment of disease. A medical physicist focuses on the treatment delivery, ensuring its effectiveness and patient protection.
What does a medical physicist do?
In nuclear and radiation medicine doctors rely on sophisticated machines with very specific requirements that need to be properly tested, installed and calibrated to benefit patients and keep them safe.
For example, for machine calibration, MPs do calculations and measurements to determine the exact dose of a radiation beam of a machine and use it to safely treat a patient. If you deliver too much radiation then it could cause more harm than good to the patients. If you deliver too little, then it won’t be enough to destroy all the cancer cells, and the treatment will not be as effective, which could cause the recurrence of the cancer. So machine calibration is very important.