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Raison D’ètre for a Medical Physicist

One might think of medical physics as a field of calculations and measurements and machines, but for one medical physicist, he sees his work making a real difference in the lives of patients. Essential Tremor (ET) is a movement disorder affecting about 5% of the population over 65 years old that makes simple chores like drinking from a glass, using a phone or writing very difficult. Gamma Knife surgery can be a very successful treatment but accurate placement of the gamma rays is critical, and this is where medical physicists and their training and experience comes into play.

Scan shows the thalamus where the gamma rays are targeted.

Pre-Surgery Drawing
Drawing from patient with Essential Tremor before and after Gamma Knife surgery

“The small area of the thalamus, targeted in ET treatment is very close to a pathway of neurons that connects the brain cortex to the extremities, therefore any damage to this pathway may cause paralysis,” explains Francisco Li, a Gamma Knife physicist at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Physicists and their help in placing gamma rays can mean the difference in successful treatment. “In a recent case, I got to see the difference that my contribution to treatment made in drawings made by the patient before and after treatment, and a painting she sent 4 months after treatment was complete,” Li said. “That is my raison d’être as a medical physicist, improving another person’s life makes me happy.”

Post-Surgery Drawing
Drawing from the patient four months after Gamma Knife surgery.