IPEM's International Scholar speaks about why he chose medical physics as a career

Eduardo José Florian Ché, from Guatemala, is IPEM’s International Scholar and here he outlines why he chose a career in medical physics.

I have a degree in physics from the Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala. Currently, I am doing my postgraduate studies in medical physics in a program taught by the ICTP in conjunction with the University of Trieste in Italy.

Why medical physics? Medical physics was always the dream and the reason I entered the physics career. But how did I come to that decision? When I was studying my last year of secondary education, I was part of the group of students who were trained to compete in the Ibero-American Physics Olympiad, which would be held that year in Granada, Spain. At the end of the training, I was selected among 3 other colleagues to represent my country. This experience taught me a few things and guided me on the path of medical physics.

Perseverance was one of the qualities I acquired during this process. The level of competition was high, this allowed me to devote myself to studying beyond the standards imposed by my country and my society, to be able to see beyond my comfort zone. It also taught me that a passionate person is enough to guide and help other people. And this was my case. A child who believed that physics was just formulas, that they were just an application of mathematics.

Ricardo Contreras, the person who showed me the beauty of physics and my first approach to medical physics. Anecdotes from his day to day life as a medical physicist were enough to illustrate that I can use my knowledge of physics for the benefit of other people. With that idea I entered the physics career, even without experience and only with anecdotes in my head, they were enough to drive a child's desire to become useful in their society.

But as in every adventure, the hard strike of reality comes. Once I finished my theoretical courses in the career, I had to complete a practical course related to one of the branches of physics. And without hesitation, I chose my practices in medical physics. These practices, performed at the Instituto de Cancerologia y Hospital Bernardo Del Valle S., The only public hospital in Guatemala that provides radiotherapy treatment. In the time I was in the hospital, half a year, I could witness that it is cancer and the daily struggle of patients and relatives before this condition. This was my hit to reality. Hard strike, but it only fueled my convictions of wanting to be a medical physicist

After my bachelor's degree in physics, I was hired to work as a radiation physicist at the hospital where I did my internship. I worked for a year until I was accepted into the ICTP medical physics program. During my time in the hospital I was in charge of the realization of 3D-CRT treatments for the Linear Accelerators vary UNIQUE and Elekta COMPACT, both of 6 MeV. Calculation of monitor units for on-point treatments for both accelerators and treatment time for a cobalt unit. This unit was decommissioned that same year. In addition, I oversaw developing high-rate brachytherapy treatments with a cobalt source for intracavitary implants and some interstitial implants. On the other hand, it developed dosimetry for low-rate brachytherapy implants.

During my year of work, I had training in radiation protection, overseeing area dosimetry within the Department of radiation therapy. On the other hand, Erick Hernandez, a professor at the University San Carlos de Guatemala and a medical physicist at one of Guatemala's private hospitals, invited me to witness the development and execution of some radiosurgery treatments that were developed in their facilities.

My experience within the hospital led me to understand the reality and the need for a medical physicist within my country. Witness the reality and struggle of cancer, as well as the role played by the medical physicist within the facilities of a radiotherapy Center. In addition, I was able to learn from other medical physicists within my facilities and realize that the field of medical physics is quite wide. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm passionate about the idea that there are more ways I can contribute to my society and continue to help people.

In Guatemala there are 4 centers that provide radiotherapy service: The Institute of cancer and Hospital Bernardo Del Valle S., The radiation therapy center La Asuncion, HOPE and CROSA. The disadvantage is that only the first is a public hospital and the rest are private, since the majority of the Guatemalan population depends on this only center. The other problem is that all radiotherapy centers are centralized, that is, all are in the capital of the country. This reduces the equity of treatment of a large percentage of the Guatemalan population.

All hospitals, both public and private, provide only radiotherapy treatments. These are conventional treatments with Linacs, 3D-CRT, VMAT, RAPIDARC, radiosurgery and brachytherapy treatments with high rate and low rate. Speaking of nuclear medicine, Guatemala does not have cyclotron and I understand that the acquisition of one is in negotiations.

Currently, Guatemala has 7 physicists with a master's degree in medical physics, one student who is pursuing her doctoral studies in medical physics and 3 students pursuing her master's degree in medical physics. There is a strong need for professionals who wish to pursue their doctoral studies. This would generate a great impact and advancement for Guatemala in the field of medical physics. For this very reason, I feel motivated and I will look for doctoral options in lines that I can apply or implement in my country.

I just have to thank IPEM for the opportunity and trust it gives me to continue my professional growth and continue to encourage my dreams of being a medical physicist.