PolyU launches the first dedicated interdisciplinary master programme in medical physics to nurture future clinical and academic talents in the field

Demand for Medical Physicists continues to grow as cancer treatment evolves

HONG KONG, Sept. 23, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — As medical technology advances, breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating various critical illnesses are achieved, and as the design of patient treatment plans becomes more precise and personalised, healthcare practitioners are expected to keep abreast of the latest developments so as to master the most sophisticated technologies. In a cancer treatment team, members are specialised in their respective fields, yet they work together seamlessly to devise the most effective treatment for patients. One of the lesser-known of the specialists in such a team, the Medical Physicist, is responsible for formulating treatment plans, as well as monitoring and maintaining radiation equipment used to ensure precise, effective and safe delivery of treatment.

Medical Physicists specialise in radiation treatment technology, with their expertise spanning from diagnostic imaging to radiotherapy, and they are “strong backers” of the cancer treatment team. However, a higher degree programme in Medical Physics was previously not available in Hong Kong or in nearby regions. To meet the future demand for Medical Physicists, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has, this academic year, launched the first Master of Science in Medical Physics (MScMP) programme in Hong Kong. The curriculum is designed to cover various aspects including health technology, physics and engineering, offering interdisciplinary training for professionals who are keen to pursue a career in the field of medical physics.

High demand for cancer treatment  Creating local training opportunities

The ageing population in Hong Kong poses immense challenges to the local healthcare system and the rising demand for cancer treatment is definitely one of them. To maintain the quality of healthcare services, it is essential to have more qualified professionals in the workforce. There are about 150 Medical Physicists currently practising in Hong Kong, serving at the Hospital Authority as well as in public and private hospitals. They possess both physics and medical expertise, playing a vital role in diagnosis and the formulation of treatment plans, as well as ensuring proper operation of equipment to achieve the treatment goal.

In 2018, the Department of Health Technology and Informatics of PolyU received positive responses from the industry regarding the introduction of an MScMP programme in Hong Kong. After two years’ preparation, the inaugural 2020/21 cohort of 26 students has enrolled, among which 70% have a physics or engineering-related degree while 20% are graduates in radiotherapy. The majority are working adults, and one-fifth of them are in the healthcare/medical field.

Professor David Ho-keung SHUM, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences of PolyU, said, “The demand for healthcare services is increasing as our society ages. With the advancement of technology and patients’ growing expectation of higher service standards, we are in need of additional workforce. Besides those working on the frontline, we need experts in innovative health technology at the back-end to achieve effective treatment. We are pleased to be the first local university / higher education institution to offer a master programme in medical physics, which in addition to preparing students for a career in medical physics will also help to promote the development of field itself. We also hope that students can make good use of the teaching resources at PolyU.”

Leveraging interdisciplinary expertise  Striving for the well-being of patients

Medical Physics is an interdisciplinary field that crosses the boundaries of medicine, physics and engineering. Professor Shea-ping YIP, Head of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics of PolyU, pointed out: “The demand for radiotherapy is ever-increasing. Taking China as an example, the market for radiotherapy is expected to grow by 11 to 13% in the coming years. In addition, it is estimated that an additional 2,500 Medical Physicists are required in order to sustain the current equipment level[1]. In Hong Kong, cancer has long been the leading cause of death and radiotherapy plays a crucial role in cancer treatment. In the past, no dedicated master programme was offered by local institutions, and people have little understanding of the role of the Medical Physicist. We hope that by launching this new programme, more people will understand the importance of medical physics and hence help to open new research areas in this field.”

Professor Jing CAI, programme leader and Professor of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics, added, “The programme is taught by an interdisciplinary team, striking a good balance between theory and practice by incorporating modules in health technology and informatics, applied physics, applied mathematics, biomedical engineering and computing. We aim to broaden students’ perspectives in medical science and technology development, and equip them with professional knowledge, relevant skillsets as well as research capabilities.”

Professor Kwok-yin WONG, Vice President (Education) of PolyU, sees the interdisciplinary trends in higher education. He said, “We are considering switching some of our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes from single-disciplinary to interdisciplinary, so as to better address societal needs. This new MScMP programme is a good example of our interdisciplinary efforts – though students enrolled on this programme already have a bachelor’s degree in a specific discipline, they can acquire new professional knowledge in the areas of health technology, physics and engineering, and create synergy of different subjects. I hope this will provide a solid basis upon which they can develop a career in the field of healthcare.”

Contribute to the community with medical physics knowledge

According to Dr Michael Chi-hang LEE, President of the Hong Kong Association of Medical Physics, half of the practising Medical Physicists in Hong Kong obtained a relevant higher degree overseas, while the other half pursued their master degree in physics or engineering in Hong Kong, and received “on-the-job” training while working as a Resident Physicist. He is encouraged to see the launch of the first MScMP programme at PolyU, “Medical Physicists play a pivotal role in a medical team, although they spend most of their time behind the scenes, they are irreplaceable in the planning and implementation of cancer treatment. They are responsible for formulating treatment plans, calculating radiation doses, as well as testing and monitoring equipment to ensure that all arrangements are perfectly executed.”

Currently, the minimum entry requirement for Resident Physicists in Hong Kong is a master degree in medical physics, physics or engineering related subjects. While working as a Resident Physicist in a hospital, one can start taking a three-part professional examination. Generally speaking, it takes about four to five years to attain certified recognition[2] as a Medical Physicist.

Mr. Lee Shun-yan, a student of the 2020/21 MScMP programme and a graduate of the University of Cambridge, is currently working as a semiconductor engineer. He said, “I have always been interested in health technology and have wanted to explore a career in this field. My first degree in physics has laid a good foundation for me to move into the areas of healthcare and engineering. I am eager to take a new turn in my career upon graduation and to give back to the community.

The next intake (2021/22) for the MScMP programme will be in the first quarter of Q1 2021. For more information about this programme, please visit: https://polyu.hk/XMheJ.

[1] Chinese Journal of Radiological Medicine and Protection, 2018, 38(12): 949-953.
[2] Certified by the Hong Kong Association of Medical Physics

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SOURCE Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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