AAPM Members Sound Off on Medical Physics 3.0 at AAPM2017 in Denver
During the 2017 AAPM Annual Meeting in Denver, the MP3.0 working group set up and staffed an information booth. The purpose of this booth was two-fold: (1) to communicate the existence and mission of the MP3.0 group (which you can read about on our website), and (2) to gather information about how conference delegates saw the field of Medical Physics evolving. To this end, visitors to the booth were asked to respond to four questions:
What is the best thing about your job? What is the worst?
Do you think there are areas where medical physicists could be contributing to human health, but are not? If so, what's stopping us?
What additional skills do you most wish you had in your job? Why?
In your view, what is the single biggest challenge in Medical Physics, and what should AAPM be doing about it?
Throughout the conference, 83 attendees completed this questionnaire. Seventy-six responses were written, whilst seven brave volunteers gave video interviews. In addition to the recorded data, it was fantastic to have many open-ended discussions with visitors about ways in which AAPM can be proactive in ensuring the skills of its members remain optimally utilized. A brief analysis of common themes from the respondents follows.
1. What is the best thing about your job? What is the worst? The dominant themes in the responses to the "best part of your job" centred around the tangible impact of medical physics work, and the ability to make a practical impact on patient care. In addition, many responders mentioned the enjoyment they got from participating in R&D work, interacting with a diverse group of staff and patients, and the variation, challenges, and independence of their jobs. For the "worst part of your job," the common themes revolved around unrealistic demands on time, feeling undervalued or marginalised, running into dead ends trying to decipher and translate regulatory demands, routine and mundane job tasks, and department or hospital politics.
2. Do you think there are areas where medical physicists could be contributing to human health, but are not? If so, what's stopping us? The most common response to this question was that we should be doing more to educate either patients and/or the public about the use of radiation in imaging and therapy, and the medical physicist's role in this. Illustrating the relevance of the MP3.0 charge, the second most common response was "yes, but not sure what." Other intriguing responses to this question were the application of medical physical principles to technological innovation in the broader hospital setting, or for medical physicists to engage more proactively with research at a preclinical level. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common responses to "what's stopping us" related to a lack of time or resources, often because of technical service demands. Other common themes included a lack of knowledge and engagement with problems outside our direct field, and a feeling of not being asked to help with existing problems as the potential value of physicists is not widely known or appreciated.
3. What additional skills do you most wish you had in your job? Why? The most common response to this question related to computer programming. Other strong themes were management, communication, and business skills, followed by responses related to big data and machine learning. A word cloud representation of the data from this question is shown in figure 1.
4. In your view, what is the single biggest challenge in Medical Physics, and what should AAPM be doing about it? There were a number of common themes in the responses to this question; at the top of the list were challenges in communicating our value, and the possibility of existing medical physics jobs disappearing in the face of increasing automation and/or competing therapies. Other common responses touched on a widening gap between academic and clinical practice, medical physicists being too bogged down in clinical work to innovate, an increasingly homogenised workforce and narrowed pathway to entry to the field, and a lack of soft skills amongst medical physicists. Interestingly, these are the exact skills many respondents said they wished they were better at in question 3.
The MP3.0 working group would like to thank all the delegates who volunteered their time and thoughts in Denver; this feedback is extremely valuable as we seek to fulfil our ambitious mission of redefining and reinvigorating the role of physics in modern medicine.
Figure 1. Word cloud representation of responses to one of the questions visitors to the booth were asked. This data is based on 76 member responses.
Figure 2. Conference delegates chatting with members of the MP3.0 working group at AAPM2017.