Slavik Tabakov Med. Eng. Phys, IOMP and King's College London, London, United Kingdom Title:
Global distribution of medical physicists, their growth over the past 50 years and future development
Medical physicists are now an intrinsic part of the global healthcare. While currently there are around than 26,000 medical physicists globally, these are unequally distributed. The IOMP data shows that around 17,000 of these are in North America and Europe, while the rest are serving the three largest continents – Asia, Africa and Latin America. In these places the number of medical physicists per head of the population is minimal, what reflects on the quality of healthcare in radiotherapy, medical imaging, radiation/hospital safety, etc.
The recent Report of the Global Task Force on Radiotherapy for Cancer (Lancet Oncology, 2015) estimates that, only for the needs of Radiotherapy by 2035, the number of newly-trained medical physicists will be of approximately: 17,200 for High-income countries and 22,100 for Low-and-Middle-Income countries. Adding the needs for medical physicists contributing to Medical Imaging (there is a current project about this at present) will result in approximately tripling the global number of medical physicists in the next two decades.
This challenge in front of the profession can only be addressed with concerted efforts in the field of education. These will surely embrace e-learning – an area in which medical physics is one of the world pioneers. The statistics of the IOMP shows that at its formation (around 1965) there had been roughly 6,000 medical physicists in the world. In the next three decades (1965-1975; 1975-1985; 1985-1995) their growth had been about 2,000 specialists per decade. With the introduction of e-learning, soon after 1995, the growth in the decade 1995-2005 had doubled to 4,000. In the following decade (2005-2015) the expansion of e-Learning use and the focus on education has further doubled the growth to 8,000 per decade. These figures present an important trend, which will be the main solution to the expected growth by 2035.