Dr Chris Trauernicht, Head of the Division of Medical Physics at Stellenbosch University (SU), has scooped up the prestigious International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP) award for 2020 for his substantial contributions to medical physics globally.
This annual award, which is presented by the International Organisation for Medical Physics (IOMP), recognises excellence in Medical Physics “with a particular view of promoting medical physics to a larger audience and highlighting the contributions medical physicists make for patient care".
The citation particularly highlighted Trauernicht's pivotal roles in the Federation of African Medical Physics Organisations (FAMPO).
Medical physics is the application of physics in medicine, predominantly in radiotherapy, diagnostic radiology or nuclear medicine. The IDMP Award is linked to the International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP) from which it takes its name.
In an interview, Trauernicht said it was an honour to be recognised for his contributions. He stressed that medical physics is badly underrepresented in Africa where there are just over 1000 medical physicists, despite the continent's population of more than 1.3 billion people.
“Just to put things in perspective, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine has about 8500 members, with about a quarter of the population. In Africa, only six countries of 54 have legislative recognition of medical physicists, only 11 countries have a national society, only 10 countries offer academic medical physics training and only seven offer clinical medical physics training, which follows after the academic training. A 2015 paper in the Lancet Oncology projected that by 2035 about 22 000 medical physicists will be required in low-and middle-income countries in the world, of which many are in Africa. This is to cover the need in radiotherapy alone, not even taking into account all the imaging modalities (diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine) or other regulatory aspects. The gap is massive," Trauernicht said.
He added that in South Africa, there are about 140 medical physicists, most of whom are working in radiotherapy.
“We are one of the six countries that require registration, in our case with the HPCSA. Our association was founded in 1960 and is one of the older ones in the world. So in South Africa we are reasonably well off compared to the rest of Africa.
Trauernicht said FAMPO, which was founded in 2010, has among its objectives the promotion of the profession of medical physics, of the training of medical physicists and of appropriate uses of technology.
Trauernicht, who was born in Cape Town and schooled in Namibia before studying physics on a scholarship at UCT, did not study medicine, but studied theoretical physics. “I had to catch up all the medical physics subjects but have since done my MSc and PhD in medical physics."
A past president of the South African Association of Physicists in Medicine and Biology, he has, since starting at Tygerberg Hospital in 2017, restructured the division to appoint more core staff, i.e. medical physicists, and increased their capacity for clinical training of interns including interns from other countries in Africa.
“Tygerberg hospital is considered a regional designated centre for training of medical physicists by the International Atomic Energy Agency, who have funded our African fellows. “He is the vice-president and president-elect of FAMPO and, in this capacity has started promoting regional (in Africa) accreditation of medical physics training programmes, with a view to eventually registering medical physicists with FAMPO, where no local registration exists yet.
“The whole idea of accreditation of training programmes and registration of medical physicists in Africa was not my idea, but it is a team effort within FAMPO.
“We hope that this will elevate the status of medical physicists in their respective countries and will help get them local recognition and registration with their national health professions councils."