Medical Physicists Without Borders Addresses the Burgeoning Need for Medical Physicists Globally

By Jake Van Dyk

The recent Lancet Oncology CPhoto of Jake Van Dykommission report on Expanding Global Access to Radiotherapy indicated that more than 22,000 Medical Physicists will be needed over the next 20 years to address the rising cancer crisis in low-to-middle income countries. Medical Physicists Without Borders (MPWB) (www.mpwb.org ) is a new volunteer organization with a primary mandate of providing intellectual support through training, mentoring and partnering. The overall purpose is to yield safe and effective use of physics and technologies in medicine, especially in low-to-middle income settings. MPWB is incorporated in Canada and is seeking the same in the US along with charitable status in both countries. It is in discussion with various organizations about involvement in master’s degree training programs including those in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Furthermore, it is receiving requests from Medical Physics graduate students to participate in electives in lower income settings. While MPWB is still in its early phase of development, it is clear that there is significant interest in support of this activity as it now has a mailing list exceeding 500 contacts.

The concept of MPWB came to me after working as a consultant at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in its Human Health Division, for nearly two years between 2009 and 2011. The IAEA has major programs toward providing support and increasing capacity for radiation medicine, especially in low-to-middle income countries. During that time I came into contact with Physicien Médical Sans Frontières, a French-based organization with the goal of providing “missions of aid in support of cancer in developing countries.” When contacting them about setting up an English-speaking sister organization, the response was very positive. Thus, in 2011, as part of the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP) Gold Medal award ceremony, I announced my interest in developing MPWB. The response to that announcement and to several informal meetings held at COMP and American Association of Physicists (AAPM) annual scientific meetings was more than enthusiastic. It was clear that there are many Medical Physicists who were eager to get involved, but were not sure how to.

A major emphasis of MPWB is to work in close partnerships with other organizations that support the enhancement of medical physics activities as well as working closely with medical physics colleagues in the lower income settings. To this end, MPWB has developed a joint memorandum of understanding with the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) and isMedical Physicists Without Borders -- mpwb.org working on a similar relationship with the International Organization of Medical Physicists (IOMP). Furthermore, in reviewing potential projects, MPWB continues to seek the input of the IAEA in terms their activities in different countries. The goal of MPWB is to add value and not to overlap with other activities. In a similar vein, MPWB is in close communication with International Cancer Experts Corps (ICEC,)with two of the MPWB board members being on the advisory board for ICEC.

Looking to get involved?

MPWB is a membership-driven organization. Membership is available to individuals who:

  1. Are medical physicists; or
  2. Are graduate students or residents (registrars) in medical physics or closely aligned fields; or
  3. Are working in an environment that is closely aligned with medical physics and are able to partner in less advantaged medical physics contexts.

Membership is available by filling in the application form found on our website (www.mpwb.org) and paying a nominal membership fee. The application questionnaire is quite lengthy primarily because we need to develop a detailed database of information. As projects develop, individuals will be aligned with the needs in lower income settings and their availability. (Note that as I write this, the on-line membership process is not fully implemented but there is a place to register to be on the mailing list.)