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Medical physics: Supporting the profession and practise in Europe

medical physicists meeting

Medical physicists are highly trained professionals with specialized training in the medical application of radiation physics to prevent, diagnose and treat many kinds of diseases, in particular cancer. Together with other healthcare professionals, the medical physicist plays a central role in developing, planning and implementing cancer patient treatment, as well as in research and development.

Working with equipment such as medical linacs generating x rays, ultrasound, magnetic and electric fields and lasers, medical physicists ensure that radiation is used safely and effectively in order to achieve the best diagnostic or therapeutic outcome. Their skills are essential for the safe use of nuclear technology in medical imaging, nuclear medicine and radiation oncology. However, medical physicists, who undergo many years of specialised training, are not always utilised to their full potential. In some countries, medical physics is not recognised as a clinical profession. In others, the number of qualified medical physicists in insufficient to meet national needs, or education programmes may be inadequate.

The IAEA's technical cooperation programme supports many projects in this field, including the provision of training and support to Member States to strengthen their education programmes in Africa, supporting a medical physics training centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina, strengthening medical physics through clinical training programmes in Asia and the Pacific, and supporting professional development in Latin America region.

Last week, participants from over 30 Member States in Europe gathered to discuss the current status of and future perspectives for medical physics in Europe. Experts from international organizations, as well as medical physicists and representatives from Health Ministries and other governmental agencies, came together to discuss and build awareness of the important role of medical physicists. Topics included medical physicist roles and responsibilities, education and training frameworks, medical physics staffing levels and the development of mechanisms for the implementation of European and international basic safety standards, as well as the certification and recognition of medical physicists as health professionals.

Participants at the meeting gathered and endorsed a set of recommendations, which include establishing the appropriate qualification framework for clinically qualified medical physicists, fulfilling staffing levels, and enforcing legislative and regulatory requirements related to radiation safety. The meeting participants also recommended that medical physics be recognized as an independent profession. This recommendation is already contained in the Bonn Call-for-Action Joint Position Statement by the IAEA and WHO, which concludes that recognizing medical physics as a skilled, independent health care profession , with important radiation protection responsibilities, is a key step to strengthening radiation safety culture in health care.

The recognition and education of medical physicists is important for the future perspectives of medical physics. "When medical physicists are pushed to the edge of healthcare teams, it can be drastically harmful to patients." explained Mr Bozidar Casar, a medical physicist from the Slovenia Institute of Oncology who participated in the meeting. When the contribution of these healthcare professionals is recognized, "we can harmonize a safe and effective radiation treatment upon diagnosis," added Mr Eduard Gershkevitsch of the North Estonia Medical Centre. Such recognition, alongside the assistance provided to Member States by the IAEA, will ensure continued improvements in patient care, treatment and safety in Europe.

For further insights regarding the Regional Meeting, and regarding the medical physics discipline generally, see our interviews with some of the meeting's participants in related resources.


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