Year : 2015 | Volume
: 40 | Issue : 3 | Page : 121--122
Demand and supply of medical physicists: Issues of quantity, quality, and competency in India
Radiological Physics and Advisory Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Anushaktinagar, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
S D Sharma
RP and AD, BARC, CT and CRS Bldg., Anushaktinagar, Mumbai - 400 094, Maharashtra
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Sharma S D. Demand and supply of medical physicists: Issues of quantity, quality, and competency in India.J Med Phys 2015;40:121-122
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Sharma S D. Demand and supply of medical physicists: Issues of quantity, quality, and competency in India. J Med Phys [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Oct 16 ];40:121-122
Available from: http://www.jmp.org.in/text.asp?2015/40/3/121/165079
International Organization for Medical Physics (IOMP) Policy Statement No. 1 states that the medical physicists are professionals with education and specialist training in the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine. They work in clinical, academic, or research institutions and the medical physicists working in the clinical environment are health professionals, with education and specialist training in the concepts and techniques of applying physics in medicine, competent to practice independently in one or more of the subfields (specialties) of medical physics. Thus, IOMP Policy Statement No. 1 clearly identifies the need for a well-structured, high quality education, and training program for a clinical medical physicist who can work independently as a specialist without the supervision and can take the appropriate technical and clinical decisions toward his professional activities. The question is whether all the medical physicists trained by various universities/institutions fulfill these expectations? In other words, whether the medical physicists trained by different universities/institutions are competent enough to discharge the duty of unsupervised clinical medical physicists? It is a debatable proposition which needs the evidence for qualifying the statements in both the arms either for or against.
In India, two different types of medical physics courses are conducted, namely (a) Post Master of Science (M. Sc.) Diploma in Radiological/Medical Physics (Post M. Sc. DipRP/DipMP), and (b) M. Sc. Degree in Medical Physics (M. Sc. [Medical Physics]). In Post M. Sc. DipRP/DipMP course, the entry level qualification of the candidate is M. Sc. Degree in Physics whereas in M. Sc. (Medical Physics) course the entry level qualification is Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in physics. As the majority of the medical physicists trained in India work in the discipline of radiation oncology medical physics (ROMP), the entry level qualifications are based on the eligibility criteria prescribed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) for medical physicist and radiological safety officer (RSO). The curriculum of the Post M. Sc. DipRP course, conducted by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), has been adopted by the AERB indicating it to be one of the best courses in the country with its well organized modality. This course, conducted unabated since 1962, is known to have come a long way and is credited to have established the foundation of medical physics as a profession in India. In the recent past, a number of universities/institutions have started either Post M. Sc. DipRP/DipMP or M. Sc. (Medical Physics) courses. The basic justification given by the universities/institutions for starting these courses is to narrow the gap between demand and supply of medical physicists. At present, more than 150 medical physicists are graduating per annum from the education and training programs conducted at different universities/institutions in India. The number of medical physicists trained per annum, thus, appears sufficient to fulfill the requirements of medical physicists in medical, academic, and research institutions in the country. Questions in this matter, however, arise whether the universities/institutions have the sufficient infrastructure (adequately qualified and experienced faculty, adequate number of faculties in different disciplines, well equipped laboratory, etc.) for providing quality education and training to produce competent medical physicists and is it appropriate to flood the field of medical physics with inadequately educated and trained medical physicists by adding/opening still more training courses? As the majority of the medical physicists find employment in the discipline of ROMP, the obvious answer to this question is negative because it is concerned with the life of the human being. Recently, medical physics competency test was conducted by BARC for regularization of those medical physics candidates who have passed out from the courses which have not yet been recognized by AERB. This test was designed to test basic understanding of the subject of medical physics. The number of successful candidates in this competency test was 14% only. Such a poor success rate in the basic medical physics competency test is clear evidence that quality of the candidates passed out from such courses is not as expected. Therefore, for maintaining a minimum quality of medical physics education and training, there is an urgent need for establishing a program of accreditation of medical physics courses by an independent agency in India.
As of now, it is required to obtain recognition/consent or no objection from the AERB to start medical physics course so that the successful candidates of the course could appear in the RSO certification examination. It is understood that a thorough scrutiny of the course syllabus and infrastructure is carried out during the process of AERB recognition/consent or no objection. To some extent, this has helped in improving the quality of the medical physics course. However, it is known that a number of universities/institutions approach AERB only after starting the course and presume AERB recognition/consent or no objection on the ground of human sympathy to the carrier and future of these trained professionals. Hence, in some cases, the batches of the students passing out prior to the scrutiny of the courses do not get quality training and education. Recently, some checks and balance were introduced by AERB by fixing July 2014 as the deadline for all such courses. As per current AERB requirement, only those candidates who are admitted after the date of issuance of AERB recognition/consent or no objection to the course and successfully complete their course are eligible to be recognized as qualified medical physicists. This move of AERB is expected to improve the quality of education and training in medical physics. It is worth mentioning that a common certification examination is conducted to test the suitability of the qualified medical physicists to declare them eligible for nomination as an RSO of a medical institution. The number of successful candidates (except Post M. Sc. DipRP qualified candidates of BARC) in the RSO certification examinations of the majority of universities/institutions is below 30%. The RSO certification examination includes a good number of questions pertaining to the practice of clinical medical physicists related to the discipline of ROMP. Thus, the percentage success rate in the RSO certification examination is also clear evidence that the quality of medical physics education and training of the majority of universities/institutions are below expectations.
In the United States of America, MS courses in Medical Physics are accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP) and there are no takers for courses conducted by the universities without CAMPEP accreditation. In the United Kingdom, Medical Physics courses are accredited by Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. However, in India, universities/institutions require recognition/consent from AERB particularly for the RSO eligibility. As the AERB does not conduct competency test for medical physicists, there is an urgent need that eligible young medical physicists should be encouraged to undergo an appropriate competency test to work as clinical medical physicist in the discipline of ROMP. This need was recognized by the Association of Medical Physicists of India (AMPI) and a College of Medical Physics of India with an examination and certification wing was created by AMPI which started conducting one such examination. However, it is evident that further efforts are needed to strengthen and to obtain formal recognitions to this program, and to make it mandatory for medical physicists in the discipline of ROMP in India. Although this editorial has been written in the Indian context, it may be applicable to many countries in the world.
|1||International Organization for Medical Physics (IOMP). The Medical Physicist: Role and Responsibilities. IOMP Policy Statement No. 1; 2012. Available from: http://www.iomp.org/?q=node/5. [Last accessed on 2015 Jul 24].|
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