I was lucky enough in April of 2017 to take a memorable two week family vacation in Kenya. During my trip, I spent one day at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in the Radiation Oncology Department as part of the AAPM Exchange Scientist program. As a member of TG-275, I gave a presentation on physics plan and chart checks to the physics staff. I also delivered medical physics equipment that had been donated through the AAPM/IOMP Equipment Donation program.
While planning my vacation, I decided to try to incorporate a visit to a radiation oncology center into the itinerary. A search on LinkedIn led me to Aggrey Wakhule, a medical physicist at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Aggrey said that the KNH physicists would welcome my visit and brought a fellow physicist, Wilson Egadwa, into the conversation. Aggrey and Wilson were essential in guiding me in the proper actions and etiquette in preparation for the visit. For example, under Aggrey's guidance, I sent an email to the medical director requesting permission to visit the center.
Early in the discussion, I offered to give a presentation on chart checks during my visit. Since I would be representing an AAPM Task Group, I contacted both the task group chair for approval and the Exchange Scientist Subcommittee Chair to learn how to become an AAPM Exchange Scientist. Both Raymond Wu, the Subcommittee Chair, and the International Portal on the AAPM website were very helpful throughout this process.
Several weeks prior to the trip, a link on the MedPhys listserve reminded me about the AAPM/IOMP Equipment Donation program. I didn't want to miss an opportunity to help the physicists at KNH so I contacted the Equipment Donation Subcommittee and inquired about taking equipment to Kenya. Guided by the Subcommittee Chair, I asked the KNH physicists to complete the online forms requesting needed equipment. A flurry of activity and communications ensued by many incredible people including Derek Brown, Stephanie Lampe, and Yakov Pipman that led to an ADCL calibrated ion chamber and electrometer along with some accessory equipment being delivered to me about a week prior to my departure.
On the day of my visit, I was greeted by Aggrey and Wilson. They gave me a tour of the department in the main hospital which includes two Cobalt-60 units, an HDR, and a simulator. I was able to meet other physicists including Bob Omondi, Rebekah Hezekiah, and David Kanda. I was told that Rebekah is the first and only female medical physicist in Kenya. After an enjoyable lunch with the physics staff, I was shown the new Elekta machine which is housed in a separate location from the main hospital. Later in the afternoon, I gave a presentation in what had previously been the Cesium Ward and is now a classroom. A physicist from another cancer center in Nairobi, Bernard Kiprotich, joined us for the presenation. Once treatments were complete on the Cobalt-60 machine, we performed a calibration check of the new equipment to ensure that it had not been damaged during transit. I also trained the staff on the use of the donated equipment. Before leaving, I encouraged the physicists to use me as a resource and gave them my contact information.
Since returning home to the United States, I have remained in contact with the KNH physicists. They occasionally send me questions. When I'm not able to provide the answer, I bring other physicists into the conversation. I found the entire experience to be enjoyable and rewarding. I hope to maintain a lasting relationship with my new friends in Kenya.
I encourage any medical physicists who are traveling to other countries, especially LMIC's, to take the time to visit a radiation oncology center as an AAPM Exchange Scientist and/or deliver much needed equipment through the AAPM/IOMP Equipment Donation program. I also encourage centers to donate equipment they no longer use to the Equipment Donation program. I have witnessed first hand the substantial impact that such donations can have, and the relationships and goodwill that donating equipment can foster.
La Jolla, CA
AAPM Equipment Donation Subcomittee Chair
The Equipment Donation Program is primarily focused on donating therapy and imaging measurement equipment, including ion chambers, electrometers, cables, digital barometers and thermometers, and scanning water tanks. Though small, these items are the most commonly requested and can very literaly mean the difference between linacs and CT scanners that treat/image patients and those that lay idle, awaiting adequate commissioning. Many of us have equipment such as this in our clinics that is no longer used. This is equipment that could have a significant impact in clinics and educational institutions in low and middle income countries.The donation process is simple.
The Equipment Donation Program also provides AAPM-sanctioned 'release of liability' forms that ensure donors are exempt from liability and aims to ensure that the donation process is as effortless for the donor as possible.
Exchange Scientist Program Subcommittee Chair
The objective of the Exchange Scientist Program is to create and promote opportunities for qualified AAPM members to serve as Exchange Scientists (ES) in other parts of the world. The goal is to share knowledge and experience while traveling abroad physically or virtually via the web to help improve the quality of the medical physics profession. Activities besides giving lectures in foreign countries or via the web, may include mentoring trainees, serving as external examiners and item writers for medical physics certification programs, hosting social media discussion groups, and provide onsite training for donated equipment as in this case, etc.
To get involved, one can volunteer as a member of the ESPS committee by contacting the Committee Chair, or apply as an Exchange Scientist by going to the International Portal and submit an application. A list of approved Exchange Scientists is shown in the portal together with the description of the program. In addition, interested Hosting Institutions may contact the ES directly. Subsequent arrangements or contracts are entirely between the ES and Hosting Institutions.
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