Being a radiotherapy physicist requires you to work in a multidisciplinary team working closely with engineers, radiographers, doctors and other healthcare professionals to provide a safe radiotherapy service and to develop new technologies for service improvement. The responsibilities include a mixture of clinical work, research and teaching. In order to practice as a fully trained radiotherapy physicist you must be registered with the Health Professions Council (HCPC) as a clinical scientist. The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) is the professional organisation for physicists (as well as engineers and technologists) working in medicine.
What does a Radiotherapy Physicist do?
Within a radiotherapy department, the physicists have a key role in planning individual patients’ radiation treatment. This can be using either external radiation beams or radioactive sources positioned close to or within the patient.
In addition to this they are responsible for commissioning new pieces of equipment which can be highly complex and are responsible for the design and implementation of new techniques/treatments. They are heavily involved in the management of quality assurance programmes to ensure that all equipment remains safe and accurate.
Radiation protection is also a role of the radiotherapy physicist to provide advice that ensures the safe design of radiotherapy facilities and also the safe handling and storage of radioactive sources.
A radiotherapy physicist is also required to help diagnose and assist with problems that arise from specialised and complex equipment and treatments and provide appropriate advice to ensure a safe service.
Teaching also forms an important role of the radiotherapy physicist. This can be very varied and can range from training junior physicists on their path to registration to teaching physics to doctors as part of their training in the radiotherapy specialism.
For more information on training to be a radiotherapy physicist click here.
What is a Dosimetrist?
A dosimetrist (also known as a clinical technologist) performs a variety of tasks in a Radiotherapy Physics department. These include treatment planning and checking; quality assurance on linear accelerators and other equipment; dose verification of individual patient plans and working in Brachytherapy. They may assist medical physics staff doing equipment commissioning and project work. Some dosimetrists work in the mould room preparing immobilisation devices for patients.
A Typical Day….
A typical day might start with running up a treatment machine – performing measurements and tests to ensure that the machine is safe for treating patients. After that we would start treatment planning – producing plans for a range of different treatment sites. At the end of the day, we might have a complex plan that needs verification. The next day may be spent in brachytherapy, busy with patients. So in fact there is no typical day!
A dosimetrist needs to have an understanding of radiation physics; how radiotherapy equipment works and aspects of oncology. There are currently two routes into training. The first is undertaking a two-year graduate certificate that involves attending university for several block weeks and working towards an electronic portfolio with evidence of achieving competencies. During this two year period, you are employed as a trainee. An undergraduate degree in Physics is required for entry onto this scheme. The second scheme takes around two years and involves creating a portfolio of evidence of competency and is assessed by a viva at the end of training. There are plans to introduce an undergraduate course for dosimetrists in the near future. After successfully passing training, dosimetrists are eligible for registration on the The register of clinical technologists. They are also eligible for membership of IPEM. Further information on training can be found here: IPEM.
Extensive information about the role of therapeutic radiographers can be found in the radiotherapy section of our website.