Twenty-five years after starting as a junior registrar in the Division of Nuclear Medicine, Professor James Warwick was recently appointed as the new head of the division, a promotion which he has described as an “exciting next step" in his career.
In an interview, Warwick said one of his main aims in the new position is to ensure that the research coming out of the division provides solutions which can be applied in the South African context and which can benefit ordinary citizens.
“I now face a new set of challenges in terms of where we go strategically as a division and in managing a talented, interesting and diverse set of people. I am really looking forward to it. It's a whole new thing," he said.
Born and raised in Cape Town, Warwick completed his medical degree at the University of Cape Town, after which he did his postgraduate and specialisation training at Stellenbosch University.
“With the exception of a short fellowship in Belgium after specialising, I have grown in the ranks here – from a junior to a senior specialist," he said.
Turning to his future plans for the division, Warwick said: “In Tygerberg Hospital and in the faculty, we have two or three broad areas of responsibility. On the one hand we have a responsibility to teach students and to do research, but we are also responsible for service delivery, in that we provide clinical services to state and private patients at the hospital.
“The goal is always to try and marry those two so the clinical research we do is relevant and affects how we treat and manage the patients referred to us.
“While it is important to look at new exciting technologies or molecules and other areas in research, my intention is to make sure our research serves our communities. For me it's not just about publishing papers, but also to ensure the research translates into new possibilities that are appropriate to our context and available to our patients. To me, that is what it's all about.
“We are a South African division, working in a middle-income country with finite resources. It is important that we don't just cut and paste solutions out of Europe and the United States. We need to do research directed at finding practical solutions that we can apply with our limited resources."
Warwick said nuclear medicine plays a key role in medicine, mostly in the management of patients as a supportive discipline.
“It helps to guide the work done by our colleagues in fields such as radiation, oncology and haematology. We don't just focus on cancer, but contribute in diverse conditions including renal disease, cardiac disease, infection etc. Mostly, we are support players who provide diagnostic information that better informs how patients are treated, but there are some niche areas where we are the treating physicians ourselves, for example thyroid disease and some cancers.
Warwick said the exposure of undergraduate students to nuclear medicine is limited as their full training programmes focus mainly on the larger, better known disciplines.
“Many medical trainees start to appreciate the contribution of the discipline once they start working in more specialised fields.
“What has struck me particularly in the short period I have been HoD, is that there is an enormous amount of interest in specialisation and we have a number of very high-quality candidates interested in joining our training programmes. These students are not only from Stellenbosch but from other universities."
While looking forward to his demanding new role, Warwick, a father of two, said he recently joined the Mountain Club so that he can spend as much time as he can walking in the mountains.
Photo credit: Damien Schumann