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Medical Health Physics

What Is Health Physics?

“Health physics” is the profession devoted to protecting people and their environment from potential radiation hazards, while making it possible to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful use of the atom.

Radiation control incorporates an understanding of many disciplines. It has common scientific interests with many areas of specialization: physics, biology, biophysics, engineering (nuclear, civil, mechanical, or electrical), chemistry, genetics, ecology, environmental sciences, metallurgy, medicine, physiology, and toxicology. The wide spectrum of knowledge required of the health physicist makes this profession both challenging and rewarding.

Medical Health Physics

Medical Physics is generally speaking the application of physics concepts, theories and methods to medicine/healthcare.

In the case of hospital work the term ‘Medical Physicist’ is the title of a specific healthcare profession with a specific mission statement (see below). Such Medical Physicists are often found in the following healthcare specialties: Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology (also known as Medical Imaging), Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Oncology (also known as Radiotherapy). However, areas of specialty are widely varied in scope and breadth e.g., Clinical Physiology (also known as Physiological Measurement, several countries), Neurophysiology (Finland), Radiation Protection (many countries), and Audiology (Netherlands).

University departments are of two types. The first type are mainly concerned with preparing students for a career as a hospital Medical Physicist and research focuses on improving the practice of the profession. A second type (increasingly called ‘Biomedical Physics’) has a much wider scope and may include research in any applications of physics to medicine from the study of biomolecular structure to microscopy and nanomedicine.

How are they related?

Health physicists have played a vital role in ensuring the safe and effective use of radiation to protect medical personnel, patients and their families. On the other hand, medical physicists are traditionally involved in diagnosis and treatments ensuring that radiation is delivered safely and effectively to patients. However, more so than ever before, the conventional responsibilities of these different professions are beginning to overlap. The use of novel therapeutic and imaging modalities has created a compelling need for stronger interaction between health and medical physicists in hospitals. Furthermore, research areas in the two fields are beginning to merge. Health physics research involving radiation shielding, instrument calibration, dose reconstruction, and risk assessment is beginning to gain appreciable interest among medical physics researchers in the US and around the world.

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