When an individual gets admitted to the university to study Physics, the next thing that comes to
people’s mind is that such a person will end up as a class teacher – well at least this is what most
Africa believe. In fact, such an individual is advised to add a Postgraduate Diploma in Education
to reinforce his Physics certificate.
Teaching is not a terrible career, after all behind every excellent professional is a teacher –
formal or informal starting with parents. However, the journey of a Physicist does not always
have to end up in a classroom as a teacher; neither does it always mean such a graduate must
necessarily abandon the hard earned Physics certificate to navigate an entirely different field
because of the limited opportunities in Physics.
Most individuals that are admitted into the Physics department of most universities in Africa
never dreamt of studying Physics, their goal in most instances was to rather study Medicine,
Pharmacy, and Engineering. So an offer to study Physics always appears to such students to be a
dream cut short. I am happy to debunk this narrative.
To this group of students, students like me (Yes ME!!! I wanted to become a medical doctor) I
bring great news. Let me put it this way; why study “just” medicine, especially when you are
inundated with a world of exciting equations to explore, when you can be a part of something as
interesting as Medical Physics?
Medical Physics is simply the application of Physics concepts in Medicine. There cannot be
Medicine without Physics, surprised ehn…lol. Please, don’t be surprised. The application of
Physics abounds in different aspects of Medicine from the operation of the syringe, to the flow of
fluid from your IV infusion at a suspended height. Put that same IV infusion at a horizontal level
to your body and observe the difference… Oh!, you’re getting it now… Lol.
Physics is a course that has it application in different fields, it is commonly referred to as the
“Father of Science”. It is not a standalone course. Without physics there can be no radiotherapy,
nuclear medicine, radiology, MRI, ultrasound etc. That’s why we say “It’s a Medical Physics
world” – our theme for the year 2019 International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP).
Medical Physics is a budding field in Africa with a great future. A lot of Africans are still
oblivious of its existence, many of whom have even benefitted from the expertise of a medical
physicist in one form or the other – during radiotherapy, medical imaging, in industries just to
mention but a few.
We apply the knowledge of Physics in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Medical
Physicists work with other health professionals like oncologists, radiologists, urologists,
radiographers, nurses, engineers etc. to provide the needed solution for patient care. Medical
Physicists offer clinical and consultancy services, teach and train other health professionals on
the principles of Physics behind what they do. Now it’s getting more interesting: so you see those
that said you will teach didn’t actually get it wrong, they only ignorantly limited your teaching
indispensability to the conventional classroom. Little wonder why postgraduate education in
medical physics (at least a masters degree) is just a prerequisite for a career in medical physics
since training of other health professionals requires an academic and research depth.
Furthermore, Medical Physicists are responsible for dosimetry measurements, image processing,
treatment planning, radiation protection and safety, risk management as well as regulation of the
use of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. In low and medium income countries (LMIC) as in
other parts of the world, Medical Physicists are actively involved in radiation cancer treatment;
the aim of which is to kill cancer cells and save lives. Medical Physicists carry out acceptance
tests, QA, QC and commissioning of all the equipment used in radiation medicine. Scientific
problem solving and innovation are not left out of our many exciting roles.
So if you had wanted Medicine but found yourself in Physics, or you wanted Medicine but can’t
just imagine your physics no longer in the conversation; then Medical Physics is that big thing
that can happen to you. Take your undergraduate Physics courses seriously, though they appear
abstract, you will surely find their applications in the medical world.
Currently the number of female Physicists is quite few and even fewer female Medical Physicists
can be found worldwide. This is an indication that more women are needed in this field.
Still not convinced about Medical Physics, imagine the pure joy and fulfillment that comes
knowing that a patient survived because of the important role you played. Medical care today is
a multidisciplinary effort, and no one discipline can do it all alone.
So my fellow indispensable Physicists I gladly say “Welcome to this Physics World” as Physics
meets Medicine transforming healthcare and saving lives.
Excerpts from a lecture delivered by a Medical Physicist of the University College Hospital
(UCH) at the University of Ibadan Physics Department in commemoration of the the 2019
International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP).
Compiled by Temitope Adenuga
MSc Student, Department of Physics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.