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IAEA Develops First of its Kind Emergency Preparedness and Response Guide for Medical Physicists

EPR- Medical Physicists 2020 and EPR-Pocket Guide for Medical Physicts 2020 publications

Radiation emergencies can occur anywhere, at any time and protecting the health and safety of the affected individuals is the first priority. How can people, including medical personnel, be assured that they are protected when there are no radiation experts on site?

Medical physicists, uniquely qualified to provide emergency support are usually not trained in emergency preparedness and response (EPR). A recently issued IAEA publication, the Guidance for Medical Physicists Responding to a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency, provides specific details to help close that gap and enable clinically qualified medical physicists to effectively support first responders during a nuclear or radiological accident. The publication has also been condensed into an accompanying pocket guide for swift information.

“There have been other emergency preparedness and response guidance for medical personnel, like the Generic Procedures for Medical Response During a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency (EPR-medical physicists), but no precise guidance for medical physicists was available prior to this guide,” said Mai Fukahori, a medical physicist and emergency preparedness officer at the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre. “The medical physicists can play a vital role in the response to radiation emergencies. They need to be aware of their role in such emergencies as well as the command chain governing the response to a nuclear or radiological emergency.”

Medical physicists are health professionals with specialist academic education and clinical training on the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine. They are thus competent to ensure that patients are subjected to medical radiation techniques are screened and treated safely and effectively with these radiation technologies. They have extensive knowledge of radiation dosimetry, dose measurement and reconstruction, and radiation protection. They are also experienced in collaborating with other medical professionals across many areas of expertise. Medical physicists’ specific set of skills, with effective education and training, enables them to serve as an invaluable asset for Member States’ radiation emergency response systems.

"A key element in this publication is the syllabus for training medical physicists for nuclear and radiological emergencies,” Fukahori highlighted. The thirteen training modules in the guide are designed to substantially upgrade the knowledge of medical physicists in EPR — from an introduction to nuclear and radiological emergencies, to training fellow medical physicists and other health professionals. Each module of the syllabus is supplemented by reading lists for further reference. Member States can use this syllabus when conducting training. This syllabus also serves as a basis for academic bodies in Member States to include training for radiation emergencies in their medical physics curriculum.

Medical physicists can play a vital role in the response to radiation emergencies.
Mai Fukahori, Medical Physicist and Emergency Preparedness Officer, Incident and Emergency Centre, IAEA

Grab-and-go kit

Reacting and responding effectively to emergencies is time-sensitive and readiness is the key success factor. That is why the IAEA has also developed a compact and user-friendly version of the publication, the pocket guide for Medical Physicists Supporting Response to a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency. The pocket format and the quick summaries equip medical physicists with all essential operational information to perform their tasks in the field. The pocket guide’s pages are laminated to stand up to use in busy hospital environments, and contents are colour-coded according to different functional EPR topics. Specified equipment, tools, and the guide are designed as a ready-to-go emergency kit to be maintained in stand-by when an emergency occurs.

How can medical physicists help?

With the help of the IAEA’s new publication, this group of specialists will be trained to develop action plans at the hospital level. They will also be able to contribute to providing accurate information and sound recommendations to colleagues communicating with the public about health aspects of radiation exposure during emergencies.

The recently issued publication also covers  international safety requirements for governments to “ensure that arrangements for the provision of appropriate medical screening and triage, medical treatment and longer term medical actions for those people who could be affected in a nuclear emergency,” as specified in the IAEA Safety Standard GSR Part 7’s Requirement 12 on managing the medical response in a nuclear or radiological emergency.

Training the trainers

To ensure effective training and knowledge dissemination, the IAEA conducts train-the-trainer regional workshops across the world, using the EPR-Medical Physicists publication as the primary training material. These two-week workshops, attended by qualified medical physicists, include both theory and practical learning. Workshops may be arranged by Member States with the IAEA.

Webinars related to this topic are continuously offered by the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre. Webinars are announced on the webinar website and social media.

The EPR-Medical Physicists publication along with the pocket guide are available for download online. Print copies can be obtained upon request.

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