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Clinical physics: an insider's guide

Sophie Riches, 29, is a clinical physicist. Her role involves both support and research

I studied physics, double maths and design technology at A-level. Then I completed a four-year physics with astrophysics degree but by the end I realised I did not want to do pure theoretical research.

I discovered I could start a two-year paid training scheme combining a part-time Masters at King's College, London, with work placements at King's College Hospital. I qualified in 2004 with an MSc and postgraduate diploma, and work at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in Sutton.

My field involves clinical support and research with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment. MRI can be used instead of, or as well as, CT scans and X-rays in the assessment and diagnosis of disease.

I help to ensure that equipment is working and that everyone coming into contact with the equipment knows how to stay safe when using it. One of the best parts of my job is to take research results and integrate them into practice. For example, I recently completed the development of analysis software to check the MRI scanners are performing optimally, while I also went to Seattle to present a paper to experts in the field and my peers.

As well as working on the clinical side with radiographers and clinicans, I also work with staff in other procedures such as nuclear medicine or radiotherapy. I meet patients too, especially when people have agreed to take part in scans as part of our research trials.

I didn't want a nine-to-five job and this certainly isn't one, as I often have to work quite late using the scanner and other equipment while they are not needed for patients. I can start later the next day as long as it all gets done! It's a way of working that I like, where I know what needs to be done and can plan my own working week.

For the last two years I have been enrolled in a programme of advanced training and responsility, and will shortly be submitting a portfolio of work completed during that time. If successful at my viva (oral exam), I will become a state-registered clinical scientist and will be fully qualified and responsible for what I do. The career development does not stop there, with a requirement to complete continuing professional development training every year in order to maintain your state registration. Many people in the field study for a PhD in a research area too

My role also encompasses training clinical physicists and teaching basic MRI physics, so it helps if you can communicate complex issues to people from different disciplines and academic backgrounds than yourself. The combination of the clinical side of my work, and my research means that I feel I am making a tangible difference, both in helping our department work and to people's lives. I love what I do and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves physics.

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