Celebrating medical physics 

07/11/2017 00:00 
Today marks the 150th birthday of Marie Curie and international day of medical physics.

To commemorate the occasion we are showcasing four UCLH women who work in medical physics. One of them, Blessing Nwachukwu is featured on an Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine campaign poster celebrating the role of women in the field. Also on the poster is April Smith from nuclear medicine.

  • Blessing Nwachukwu

    Blessing is a clinical technologist:

    On a day to day basis we maintain and repair medical equipment used in clinical areas such as the wards, critical care, theatres and outpatients. We also help advise clinical staff on purchasing equipment for the hospital. The types of equipment we deal with include suction pumps, defibrillators and patient monitors.

    When new equipment comes to the workshop we assess it, assemble it, test and then install it in the hospital. We often get involved in other work.

    A big project at the moment is TeleTacking which involves tagging key items of equipment so that it they can be located remotely via the wi-fi network. This will help us track the devices and help the departments to know where things are. This will go a long way to ensure we can run our services smoothly. 

    Another project which we are involved in is the roll-out of new infusion and syringe pumps Trust wide. It will also be possible to locate these remotely and in addition they will feature a drug library which will reduce medication errors.

    My first degree was in electrical engineering and then I came into this field because of my knowledge of repair. I love repairing things and understanding how the parts of an object or body work together. At school I would dismantle a radio and put it back together again.

    I love putting my hands on work and making sure that things have been done well. At the moment, I am currently studying a masters in biomechanical engineering and healthcare management.

    I am really excited about more women coming into the field and I believe we should encourage young girls coming into engineering. I am involved in STEM at schools and I really enjoy that.

  • Ursula Johnson

    Ursula is the operational lead for radiotherapy physics:

    Radiotherapy physics is hugely varied and covers everything from being responsible for the quality control of the linear accelerators and other radiotherapy equipment to planning the treatment of cancer patients.

    Before a patient starts radiotherapy, they will be given a CT scan and we will use the data from it to extensively model how the high energy X-rays can be targeted to deposit energy within the body. This ensures the right dose is given to the tumour, with as few side-effects as possible.

    I became interested in medical physics while studying physics at university. However, I got an early glimpse of my working life as a sixth former, when I visited the radiotherapy department in the Middlesex Hospital while on a school trip.

    Since then I have seen the technology used in radiotherapy transform the way we treat cancer leading to much better outcomes.

    For any career, it’s important to do something you enjoy. This is a job where you know what you are doing is going to have a direct impact on people’s lives and there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

  • Dr Anna Barnes

    Anna is the lead clinical scientist on the hybrid PETMRI unit, nuclear medicine and Fellow of the Institute of physics and engineering in medicine:

    My undergraduate degree is in astrophysics. Much of the Imaging technology in detecting X-rays and gamma-rays work in the same way – whether looking at the stars or into the body, and so I was able to transfer my skills through post-graduate retraining as a medical physicist.
    Now, I look after the PETMRI (positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging) scanner at the Cancer Centre. This new technology uses two types of imaging simultaneously (PET and MRI) to provide detailed pictures of the body that are used to plan and deliver extremely precise treatments to patients who have cancer.
    Part of my role involves quality assurance and control and I work with national societies (British Insititue of Radiology and Royal College of Radiologist) to help establish standard tests and guidelines for this new equipment. I also work with colleagues to develop new ways to get better images of the body and help run research projects in neurology, cardiology and oncology. For example, we are using the scanner to get images of the brain so we can see how it ages in the normal population.
    Another application of the hybrid imaging we have at University College Hospital is to help inform radionuclide therapy. Using our scanners, we can “see” and label where in the body needs treating, and then target the radionuclide therapy to that part of the body, improving treatment and reducing side effects.
    Looking forward, with the introduction of proton beam therapy in the near future, we are excited about the possibilities for future opportunities for hybrid imaging.
  • Alison Warry

    Alison is a senior physicist:

    I will be part of the proton beam therapy team when our new centre opens on Grafton Way.  One of the exciting things at PBT is that the tissue near the tumour can be better spared, minimising the side-effects – benefiting patients of all ages but, particularly, children.

    But there’s a lot to do before that. 

    One of my tasks is to research which type of CT scanner we will use to model patients’ treatment before we give them PBT.

    The new CT scanners I am researching will provide the detailed information that we need to be able to plan proton beam therapy – which is more complex than conventional radiotherapy.

    When was doing my PhD in physics, I realised that I wanted to work in public service and as part of a team.  I visited a friend who was a medical physicist and quizzed her and realised it ticked nearly all the boxes and thought to myself, I’ll just go for that.

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