Insights From Nagaland’s First Radiation Safety Officer - Eastern Mirror
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Insights from Nagaland’s first Radiation Safety Officer

89899000
By Moakala T Aier Updated: Feb 15, 2024 11:45 am

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Mirror, Longkumer, shared her experience and tips for those aspiring to pursue the path of becoming a medical physicist and a certified RSO

Radition Safety Officer
In frame: Aozungla Longkumer

DIMAPUR — A medical physicist by profession, Aozungla Longkumer is an epitome of how educators can leave a lasting impact and mould the future of young people.

“I was very fortunate to have had the best teachers and professors in higher secondary and college. I learnt about this career path through some academic magazines while in college and when the time came, my professors pushed me towards it,” recalled the first certified RSO (Radiation Safety Officer) from Nagaland, who is currently working as a medical physicist-cum-RSO at the Naga Hospital Authority, Kohima (NHAK).

After completing her Bachelor’s degree in physics, Longkumer joined Gauhati University for Masters in Radiological Physics, a programme conducted in collaboration with the Dr. B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI). After completing her mandatory one-year internship at the Gujarat Cancer & Research Institute (GCRI) in Ahmedabad, she cleared the Radiological Safety Officer (RSO) exam conducted by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Government of India.

She then appeared for the NPSC Combined Technical Services Exam in 2018 and joined the state government service in 2019.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Mirror, Longkumer, who has a passion for journaling, crocheting and calligraphy, shared her experience and tips for those aspiring to pursue the path of becoming a medical physicist and a certified RSO.

Can you shed some light on the distinction between a medical physicist and an RSO?
RSOs are medical physicists who have passed the certification exam for RSO. Difference is that only those medical physicists who are certified RSOs can be responsible for radiation safety in any facility setting that deals with both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation as mandated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India (AERB). And the rest of the duties and responsibilities are the same for both. 

That said, medical physics is a Master of Science programme which can be pursued after a Bachelor of Science with physics as major/honours paper. There are a number of universities that offer the course in India and most of them maintain a cut off of 60% in Physics as the eligibility criteria to sit for the entrance exam. And then after the three-year course one can work as a medical physicist. MPs have three attempts to clear the RSO examination.

Can you share the key skills and competencies necessary to succeed in this field?

Skills, competencies and level of dedication include:

a) It is very important for an MP/RSO to be really passionate about physics, especially Nuclear Physics first and foremost.

b) The desire to save lives and serve humanity.

c)  The ability to act quickly and wisely in emergency situations (radiation accidents).

d)  Lastly, sincerity and diligence. You can never afford to put your guards down.

The RSO of any radiation facility is responsible for making the call in case of any radiation emergency. And radiation if not contained and controlled can be lethal. So RSOs should at all times know the status of every radiation emitting device in their facility. And be well read, well-versed and well-trained for any emergency situation at any given point in time. Any radiation accident has the potential to harm a large group of people and the environment. So you cannot have your guards down very often as an RSO.

Some responsibilities and roles of an RSO? 

RSOs have three major roles in a radiotherapy centre:

a) Radiation safety: To ensure patient, public and environment safety with regard to radiation.

b) Treatment planning: Meticulously prepare treatment plans to ensure patients receive optimum radiation dose at target regions while sparing normal tissue from radiation damage.

c) Calibration of equipment to ensure every radiation measuring tool or equipment is working within tolerance limits.

Medical physicists and RSO’s who work in nuclear facilities, radiation equipment service providers, industrial radiography, etc. have specialised responsibilities as deemed necessary.

It is a field that is ever evolving; therefore we are required to stay updated on a daily basis.

Can you recommend some institutes or training programmes in India for aspiring medical physicists and RSOs?

There are a number of universities that offer the course in India. In Northeast India only Gauhati University offers it currently and with a very limited 10 seats per year. Jadavpur University in Kolkata, Anna University in Chennai, CMC Vellore, Tata Memorial, Mumbai are some of the other well known institutes that offer the course. Google search actually gives a list of all the institutes that carry the course.

Share us some effective strategies to prepare for the RSO exam conducted by the BARC.

The RSO exam can be a very difficult exam for someone who has not clarified their understanding of basic nuclear physics. For both written and viva, the core concept of every theory should be absolutely clear. Like any other exam, spend time in preparing notes the way you understand them and practice mathematical problems over and over. I cannot stress the importance of revising enough. You will be asked to solve mathematical problems on the board during the viva in front of the interview panel so practicing enough will do your nerves good. I believe that is their way of testing your performance under pressure.

Are there any opportunities for internships or practical experience that you would like to recommend?

Medical physicists and RSOs are still in demand in India. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) mandates the availability of an RSO before a healthcare facility can commission a linear accelerator/teletherapy machine. Then, count on all the radiation equipment/service providers like Panacea, Elekta, Varian, and PTW to name a few that require medical physicists. We already have two radiotherapy facilities in Nagaland and a couple others upcoming. But there are only six Medical Physicists now. So there are good job opportunities even in our state and ample opportunities all over the country for paid internships as well.

What do you think are some common challenges or misconceptions of this profession, and how do you navigate them?

There is an urgent need to sensitize the general public on the dangers of radiation. Radiation unlike fire or water cannot be seen or felt. By the time radiation burns appear on your skin, the cellular damage could be lethal. The high energy radiation currently employed in medicine might not be as disastrous as those of Chernobyl, USSR or Nagasaki, but uncontrolled, unmonitored exposure over a prolonged period could result in similar effects. With a substantial number of radiotherapy centres coming up, people must know about this. But radiotherapy being a fairly new treatment modality in medicine, it is a challenge for us to make the general population aware of the importance of radiation safety. There is also very limited knowledge on this profession especially in Nagaland which can make dissemination of knowledge quite challenging.

Any insights or advice for someone who wants to become a medical physicist?

Do well in your undergrad physics. Make sure you make the cut to sit for the entrance exams. Take the entrance exam very seriously because there are very limited seats in the universities that run the course. If you stick to building a strong foundation on your basics, focusing again on nuclear/atomic physics, you have nothing to worry about. It is close but still not rocket science.

RAPID INSIGHTS:

If you could crochet whatever is on your mind, what would you create?

Definitely fine intricate lace crochet patterns of all kinds.

 A sentence that you like to calligraphy often

‘Daughter of the Lord most High’

How often do you journal? 

Every other day. It helps me make a better sense of life.

Also read: Visual Studies as career option: Getting candid with a research scholar

89899000
By Moakala T Aier Updated: Feb 15, 2024 11:45:00 am
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