The role of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine

In this post, Steve Keevil, President of IPEM and Professor of Medical Physics at King’s College London, outlines IPEM’s remit and his role within it. He also highlights how they are engaged in outreach programmes.

Me, as President of IPEM (centre) with the presidents of the International Organisation for Medical Physics and the European Federation of Organisations for Medical Physics

In the summer of 1943, with the world still tearing itself apart and the NHS five years away, a group of hospital physicists met in London and established the Hospital Physicists’ Association (HPA), the world’s first professional organisation for medical physics. Over the years, through a series of changes and mergers, the HPA gave birth to the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM), now the professional body for medical physics and clinical engineering in the UK. In 2013, almost 70 years to the day after the formation of the HPA, I became President of IPEM.

So what does IPEM actually do, and what is my role in it? IPEM is a membership organisation, providing a professional ‘home’ for around 4000 people ranging from those with a general interest in the subject who may join as Affiliates to the most senior and experienced practitioners who are Fellows of the Institute. Our members are mainly based in the NHS, with increasing numbers in universities and in industry. A key part of my role is to engage with this disparate membership and make sure their views are represented in all that we do. But IPEM is established as a charity, and exists primarily for the public benefit. As Chair of the Board of Trustees, it is my job to make sure that this is at the forefront in all of IPEM’s activities, and ultimately to hold our CEO and National Office to account for the proper running of the charity.

As the professional body for our sector of the NHS healthcare science workforce, IPEM is heavily involved with NHS and government bodies. As President I sit on any number of committees, and as I write this I am on my way to a meeting with other professional leaders to discuss joint approaches to issues that cut across the whole of healthcare science. We have a leading role in the planning and delivery of training at all levels, and are currently developing standards for the accreditation of medical physics and engineering services in the NHS and beyond.

Delivery of professional development opportunities is another key part of IPEM’s mission. We organise around 20 one-day conferences on a range of topics throughout the year, as well as the annual Medical Physics and Engineering Conference and other events in partnership with allied bodies. All of these events are delivered by volunteer members, supported by the Conference Department within IPEM’s National Office.

IPEM tries to influence national policy by responding to government consultations, through membership of organisations such as the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee (members of the Division who have attended ‘SET for Britain’ at the House of Commons in recent years may have seen me there), and through links with other groups such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Sense About Science. A lot of this work is done in partnership with others, for example through the national Clinical Imaging Board, which I currently chair, which brings IPEM together with the radiologist and radiographer professional bodies.

We have a very active outreach programme, with over 50 events a year and central resources available to members who want to promote medical physics and engineering in schools and elsewhere. Recently, IPEM sponsored the Medical Physics Zone of ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here’, won by trainee medical physicist and King’s College London MSc student Glafkos Havariyoun.

On the wider stage, IPEM represents the UK medical physics and engineering community at international level. Next month I will be off to Toronto for the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, where a series of meeting will set the direction of our international organisations for the next three years (and King’s colleague Slavik Tabakov will become President of the International Organisation for Medical Physics).

A key objective for me has been to increase academic engagement with IPEM in the light of the rapid development of academic biomedical engineering (in which King’s is playing a major part). Students can now join for free, and postdocs and established academics are eligible for Membership or Fellowship. Chartered Engineer (CEng) and Chartered Scientist (CSci) status are also available to those who qualify. New groups have been established within IPEM to lead on development of our academic programme, and a future within IPEM for the annual Bioengineering Conference and associated activities of the Bioengineering Society is under discusSteve_Keevil_IPEM_KHPsion.

Looking at a photograph of the HPA annual dinner in 1949, it is remarkable how many people around the table had links to what is now King’s Health Partners. King’s and its partners have always been and remain a major focus for leadership in our profession, and I am proud to be a part of that tradition.

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