Medical Physics

Medical Physics Department
Cork University Hospital
Phone +353 (0)21 4920259 Fax +353 (0)21 4921300

Medical Physics is a branch of science in which the concepts and methods of physics are applied to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Medical physicists are health care professionals with specialised training in the medical applications of physics.  They often work with patients and other scientific, technical, medical and administrative staff. They keep abreast of scientific and medical research in their own field as well as develop laboratory, computational and management skills. The responsibilities of a clinical medical physicist lie predominantly in the areas of radiotherapy, diagnostic imaging and radiation protection. Medical Physicists have expertise in radiation safety and are responsible for controlling the beneficial use of ionising radiation in patient diagnosis and treatment while protecting workers and the public from potential hazards and harmful effects. They provide assistance to other health care professionals in optimising the balance between the benefit versus the risk of any procedure involving radiation.

The Medical Physics Department provides scientific expertise and support for the Radiotherapy Department in the area of cancer treatment and the Radiology Department in the area of nuclear medicine imaging and diagnostic X-ray imaging. The roles of a medical physicist in radiotherapy include treatment planning and radiotherapy machine design, testing, calibration, and troubleshooting. Medical physicists collaborate with radiation oncologists to design treatment plans for radiotherapy patients using either external radiation beams or internal radioactive sources. They calculate, measure and verify radiation dose to ensure that an accurate amount is delivered to a well-defined treatment volume. They also monitor equipment and procedures through quality assurance programs to ensure that cancer patients receive the prescribed dose of radiation to the correct location. Quality assurance consists of activities designed to assure adequate quality, precision and accuracy in the uses of radiation and reproducibility of the procedures and systems used.

In diagnostic imaging, the duties of a medical physicist include machine purchasing and installation, shielding design and organisation of quality assurance for imaging systems. A radiation protection/quality assurance support service is also provided to HSE hospitals and dental units in the region. In the specialty of nuclear medicine, physicists collaborate with radiographers in procedures utilising radionuclides for imaging internal organs and determining important physiological variables, such as metabolic rates and blood flow.