“Medical Physics in Africa requires committed individuals who take on the responsibility of furthering all aspects of the profession in Africa.”
How would you define Medical Physics?
Medical Physics is the application of physics to healthcare. Most medical physicists work either in radiotherapy or in imaging and help to maintain safety and quality of these services. Ideally, medical physicists must register with an applicable registration body after having undergone postgraduate academic medical physics training, followed by clinical training.
Where do you work?
Tygerberg Hospital – Director: Medical Physics (Cape Town, South Africa); Stellenbosch University – Senior Lecturer
Are there other positions you hold if any?
Current vice president of the South African Association of Physicists in Medicine and Biology; Past president of the South African Radiation Protection Society; and Accreditation board member at the IOMP.
Tell us about your educational background
I got a scholarship to study physics at the University of Cape Town. My BSc had Physics and Applied Mathematics as major subjects, before I completed a BSc(Hons) in Theoretical Physics in 1998. I played basketball for a few years, before returning to physics in 2003. I did my clinical training at Tygerberg Hospital, also completing the required academic component that I had not covered yet. I worked in proton and neutron radiotherapy for about two years, before getting a post in nuclear medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. My MSc was done on scatter analysis of a linear accelerator photon beam and completed in 2009. I moved to back to Tygerberg Hospital as head of division in 2017. My PhD graduation was delayed until the end of 2020 because of the Coronavirus. My PhD was on a specific eye applicator for the LDR brachytherapy treatment of retinoblastoma.
How did you get to know about Medical Physics?
I kind-of stumbled into medical physics. At the time (~2003) I was looking for options what to do with a physics degree. South Africa has a very strong astronomy programme with the square kilometre array and the South African Large Telescope offering numerous opportunities. However, by chance I came across medical physics, which was completely unknown to me at the time. I immediately took a liking to the field.
In what way are you involved in medical physics?
Research, Clinical (not as much as I used to do, fortunately I have a competent team of physicists), Academic and Teaching.
How long have you been involved in Medical Physics?
Over 15 years
What is your main area of specialisation in Medical Physics?
I have worked in all areas of medical physics, but at this point I am mostly working in radiotherapy.
What do you love about Medical Physics/your job?
I like the fact that this is an applied field of physics. The work we do is relevant to many people who came through the doors at the hospital, even though they will often never know.
What did you love the most while serving in FAMPO?
Medical Physics is a profession that is not yet recognized in most African countries. In fact, around 1000 medical physicists cover the need of over 1 billion people. FAMPO is an opportunity to help change this for the better.
Are there challenges you faced as a FAMPO EXCO?
Every person helping FAMPO is doing this on a voluntary basis. Sometimes things just take a little longer. Meetings are all online at a time that suits most, but very rarely all. Medical Physics in Africa requires committed individuals who take on the responsibility of furthering all aspects of the profession in Africa.
How would you rate the Medical Physics profession in Africa, Do you think significant progress has been made? (1 being the highest point and 5 the lowest)
This is a more complex answer that just 1-5. I think significant progress has been made in some countries over the last few years, and the numbers have seen substantial growth in many countries. For example, Algeria is busy implementing a national cancer plan, which has seen big investments into equipment and human resources, subsequently their medical physics numbers have increased quite dramatically. However, only six countries require the registration of medical physicists with a health professions council. I believe such legislation would give medical physics a major boost in many countries.
What do you think should be the major focus of African Medical Physicists or Medical Physics in Africa?
Safe and effective delivery of services at a high quality. Education and training (both academic and clinical). The formation of national associations where they don’t exist yet – this can be used for leverage at national level to improve the regulatory framework and to lobby for the recognition of the profession.
What would you say are the most essential skills needed for anyone interested in becoming a Medical Physicist?
A curious mind, good communication skills and to know when you don’t know.
What advice would you give aspiring Physicists/Medical Physicists?
Medical Physics is a very rewarding profession on a personal level, I highly recommend it as a career choice.
If not Medical Physics what else?
Physicists are quite often very versatile individuals who learn very quickly. This is a quality that comes in very useful in many professions. Say yes – figure out the details afterwards.