Ghada Aldosary is a board-certified medical physicist who is currently pursuing a PhD in medical physics at Carleton University. Ghada’s research focuses on new techniques for treating breast cancer patients with radiation therapy. She was born in the Middle East, raised in Canada, and continues to travel between the two regions for work and her studies.
Ghada is speaking at Soapbox Science Toronto, which takes place on 31st May 2021 via Hopin from 3-4pm ET. The title of her talk is: “I am a medical physicist, and radiation is my super strength!”
Fascinated and curious: Discovering medical physics
My medical physics journey actually started long before I knew what medical physics was!
I grew up with a consistent appreciation of science. I was particularly captivated by physics and its reliable and unambiguous laws that govern our day-to-day happenings. At the same time, I also had a deep desire to dedicate my life towards helping cure people from disease and because of this, I almost ended up in medicine. Fortunately, I decided to follow my passion and pursued physics undergraduate studies.
During one of my early courses in physics, I heard about something called electron-positron annihilation. I was fascinated! And, extremely curious. I scoured the Internet to learn more. I found out that this physics phenomenon is used in medical imaging. And not only that, but that the technologies we often hear of at the hospital (x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasound waves) actually rely on physics expertise to function well.
It turns out that there’s a whole field called medical physics, where physicists use their physics knowledge in medical applications! I was completely hooked. I became resolute and determined to become a medical physicist, and I focused my efforts to make that possible.
I arranged to spend every following summer with medical physicists to learn about different medical physics specialties (diagnostic, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, and radiation safety) as well as different career options (clinical, research, academic, and industry).
I dedicated my time and energy towards my studies, then applied to accredited medical physics graduate programmes in Canada. After that, I just kept going. Along the way, I married my best friend and became a mother to a kind and bright little girl, both of whom inspire me to be so much more every day! Slowly but surely, and fast forward several years, I am now a board-certified radiation therapy medical physicist!
The job of a medical physicist
As a medical physicist, who is specialised in radiation therapy, I am part of a medical team that uses radiation to treat cancer patients. Radiation therapy medical physicists ensure that radiation is delivered accurately and effectively to the disease site only, and that any nearby healthy tissue is kept safe.
Our daily routines involve different tasks, which always makes our job exciting! For example, we make sure that radiation therapy plans are suitable and reliable. We also calibrate and perform vigorous quality assurance tests on the sophisticated machines we use to deliver radiation (called linacs).
We’re involved in developing new treatment procedures. We ensure that any new software or hardware has been well tested before it is used to treat patients with radiation. It is also not uncommon to see us running from one end of the clinical department to the other to answer on-the-spot consult calls when challenges arise! In our job, no two days are the same!
Radiation is my super strength!
My talk is called “I am a medical physicist, and radiation is my super strength!”. I chose this title because I wanted to share two things. Firstly, since we often work in the background, many people are not familiar with medical physicists at all, I wanted to use this opportunity to speak a bit about who we are and what we do.
Secondly, I wanted to emphasise how well medical physicists understand radiation, all the physics behind it, and how we can harness its powers to treat cancer. As an example of this, in my talk I share a scenario we sometimes encounter, which is when we have a patient with a cancer that moves as they breathe during their radiation therapy treatment. I explain how we, as medical physicists, have the expertise to facilitate radiation treatments that continuously focus radiation on the cancer alone, even while it moves! Now isn’t that a super strength?
Becoming a Soapbox Science speaker has been a valuable and fun learning opportunity. The organisers introduce all speakers to science communication experts and resources to help us prepare for our talks. It has been a pleasure meeting the team and all the other amazing speakers.
Standing on my virtual Soapbox due to COVID-19
It is important to generate awareness and familiarise members of the public, especially younger generations, with different scientific fields and their contribution to our lives. Throughout the years, Soapbox Science has been an effective venue for this purpose. A major component of its success has been attributed to in-person interaction and engagement.
The pandemic has transformed Soapbox Science into a virtual event, which means that you can no longer stand on the ‘box’ and deliver your scientific content to a crowd of diverse faces in the street. However, moving to a virtual event has provided wider visibility and more flexibility in the sense that anyone, no matter where they are, can hop in to attend any Soapbox event worldwide, with no travel necessary!
Medical physics is an amalgamation of physics and medicine. It also applies engineering, biology, computer science, technology, and ethics, while accounting for patient experience. It is a field that has rapidly progressed, and continues to advance, by accounting for these various considerations with the overarching aim to provide high-quality patient care—and that is a multi-faceted endeavour. Diverse thought ensures that we approach this honourable endeavour with as many perspectives as possible.
Advice to women and girls interested in medical physics
My advice to girls and women interested in careers in medical physics is to reach out to a local medical physicist to learn more. Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from your first try, sometimes messages get buried in inboxes. Keep trying until you get a response. Be relentless in your pursuit, it is so worth it!
There are now an increasing number of mentorship programmes that can connect you with medical physics mentors to guide you. And of course, I am personally happy to provide more information.
Back to my roots
In the next few months, I will finish my PhD, which focuses on advancing the accuracy of new techniques in breast radiation therapy. I am looking forward to returning to my clinical duties and projects. I have a list of goals, with the ones closest to my heart being advancing healthcare equity in radiation therapy and helping establish equitable access to medical physics education and training in Saudi Arabia.