Graduate Profile

Rachael Hall, MPhys 2010
Clinical Scientist (Radiotherapy), The Christie Cancer Centre, Manchester

I had a great time in St Andrews completing my MPhys degree. I couldn’t imagine a better place to study – it’s so friendly and all of the staff are very helpful and interested in making sure students are getting the best out of their degree. I really enjoyed learning about physics in depth and pushing my limits. However, I think the most useful modules I did during my degree were probably ‘Transferable Skills’ and a physics teaching module ID4001. Both of these modules gave me more opportunity to look into areas I was interested in and to explore more ‘real life’ situations where you have to work with a range of people and learn to explain physics ideas to people with different backgrounds. These experiences showed me that I really enjoy teaching and communication and that I wanted a job that involved these things but also included physics work and ideally still some research work.

Based on these preferences I started looking at possible careers and looking for work experience. I was already interested in medical physics and when I realised that it is a very varied job that does include a lot of teaching/training as well as some research and development work I decided it was the job for me. After doing some shadowing in hospital departments I applied to both the Scottish and England and Wales medical physics training schemes and after graduating took up a training place at King’s College Hospital, London.

I trained in London for two years, which included an MSc in Medical Physics and Engineering and three placements in clinical departments, as well as opportunities to attend and present at national conferences. I loved my time on the training scheme – I learnt a lot in a short period of time, both theory and practical skills, and made some great friends too. It was a steep learning curve as it included new aspects of physics as well as learning a lot about anatomy and physiology but we had a lot of support from more senior staff and could learn a lot from practical work and observation in our placements.

After completing the basic training scheme I had to do some more ‘on the job’ training before being fully qualified in my chosen area of medical physics. I chose to specialise in radiotherapy (the treatment of cancer using radiation) and to take a position in Glasgow. After completing this further training I took up a permanent job at The Christie in Manchester where I work as part of a large team of physicists, radiographers, and doctors.

My work in radiotherapy is very varied. Routine clinical work is centred around ensuring that patients are treated safely, which includes performing measurements to ensure that the radiation dose we deliver to patients is correct, optimising individual patient’s treatment plans, and responding to physics queries about a patient’s treatment. I am also involved in R&D work such as developing new treatment techniques, testing new equipment, and optimising current practices. This work allows me to present at conferences and there is also the possibility of submitting papers for publication (although admittedly much less opportunity for this kind of thing than a pure research job!). However, one of my favourite aspects of the job is that I also get a wide variety of opportunities to get involved in teaching, training, and outreach activities. These opportunities can vary from working with trainees within the department, volunteering at science fairs, teaching on lecture courses, etc. and can be tailored to your own interests. I think these kinds of opportunities are really important in keeping your work life interesting, for example I was recently able to go to India to teach on a lecture course there, which was a fantastic experience as you can see from the photo below!

Lecturers on a Medical Physics course in Kolkata, India.

Medical physics is definitely a career I would recommend to anyone looking for a varied work life, who wants to do very practical work and work with a wide variety of people. For more information have a look at the links below.

First posted BDS 6.3.16