The ageing population creates immense challenges for the delivery of healthcare services, leading to significant demand for medical professionals. One such area is medical physicists, who are critical in providing radiotherapy for effective cancer treatment. There are currently only 150 medical physicists practising in Hong Kong, too few to meet the growing need, while in Mainland China the gap is even larger. To help meet demand, PolyU started offering a Master of Science in Medical Physics this September, as no higher degree programme was previously available locally or in nearby regions.


Professor David Shum Ho-keung, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences of PolyU, said: “We are pleased to be the first local university to offer a master‘s programme in medical physics, which, in addition to preparing students for a career in medical physics, will also help promote the development of the field itself.”


A career as a medical physicist

Medical physicists specialise in radiation treatment technology, with their expertise spanning from diagnostic imaging to radiotherapy. Although they spend most of their time behind the scenes, they play a pivotal role in a medical team. For example, in the planning and implementation of cancer treatment, medical physicists are responsible for formulating treatment plans, calculating radiation doses, and testing and monitoring equipment to ensure it is operating correctly to achieve the treatment goal.


After obtaining a master’s degree in medical physics, a resident physicist can embark on a three-stage professional examination, while serving in a hospital. Generally speaking, it takes about four to five years to attain certified recognition as a medical physicist in Hong Kong.


Interdisciplinary expertise

Medical physics is a discipline that crosses the boundaries of medicine, physics and engineering. PolyU’s new programme offers interdisciplinary training for aspiring professionals keen to pursue a career in the field. It is hosted by the Department of Health Technology and Informatics (HTI) in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, with close collaboration with the Department of Applied Physics in the Faculty of Applied Science and Textiles. Professor Yip Shea-ping, Head of HTI, pointed out, “In the past, no dedicated master's programme was offered by local institutions, and people have little understanding of what medical physicists do. We hope that by launching this new course, more people will understand the importance of medical physics and hence help to open new research areas in this field.” The programme has established close connections with local hospitals, the healthcare industry, and medical physics societies in Hong Kong and overseas.


Professor Cai Jing, the programme leader and Professor of the Department of HTI, said, “We aim to broaden students’ perspectives in medical science and technology development, and equip them with professional knowledge and relevant skillsets, as well as research capabilities.”


The PolyU curriculum is aligned with international standards for medical physics graduate education. The self-financed programme offers full-time and part-time modes of study. It normally takes one year to complete on a full-time basis, and 2.5 years on a part-time one. Applicants for the programme should have a bachelor’s degree in physics, applied physics, engineering physics, engineering, mathematics, radiography, natural science, or health technology. In the inaugural 2020/21 cohort, 26 students have enrolled, of which 70% have a physics or engineering-related degree, while 20% are graduates in radiotherapy.