12 March 2019
Maria Boutros, Physicist, UCLH
BSc Physics with Medical Physics (2001)
I studied Physics with Medical Physics at UCL and graduated in 2001 with First-Class Honours. Being part of the Medical Physics department was like being in a well-connected family where nearly everyone knew each other. The dynamics of UCL’s collaborations and the network a person acquires by being part of that department is key to a student’s successful future. It was through my connections with UCL that I learnt about career options and the IPEM training scheme.
One of the best aspects of studying within the department of Medical Physics was their mentoring system. My tutor was Professor Alan Cottenden who was extremely supportive and helpful. He always had words of wisdom as well as practical steps to take in the toughest times of my course. With his tremendous enthusiasm for incontinence technology and his passion to improve the quality of life for people with intractable incontinence, he was a real inspiration to me as an undergraduate. The hybrid of physics and medicine is not theoretical but has very practical implications in improving lives.
One noteworthy incident occurred when I was asked to help a UCH midwife who was undergoing an ultrasound course and needed some help with the physics background. Cast your bread upon the waters! Years later, when I was pregnant with my first child, I accidentally bumped into her at UCLH where she gave me advice about a condition I had during my pregnancy and performed a 4D ultrasound scan on the baby - which was quite new to the NHS in those days.
UCL, with its rich diversity, enabled me to gain interpersonal skills which are crucial to working within a multidisciplinary team and with cancer patients in a Radiotherapy department. In addition, problem solving techniques, including lateral thinking and analytical abilities, were all enhanced throughout the Medical Physics modules and practical sessions.
I am currently working as a physicist in the Radiotherapy department at UCLH where we tailor cancer patients’ treatment plans specifically to the cancer and the individual to receive the optimum treatment. At UCLH, we use various modalities such as high energy photons, electrons, high dose-rate brachytherapy or low energy x-rays, or indeed a combination of modalities to treat cancer patients. We perform routine quality assurance on each treatment machine and measuring device to ensure the safety and consistency of the performance of such complex equipment. Furthermore, as a team, we are continually developing improved techniques for radiotherapy treatment such as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, deep-inspiration breath hold technique, and pediatric high dose-rate brachytherapy, to name a few.
In the future, I would like to work in Radiotherapy departments in Africa on a voluntary basis. Most of the time, these hospitals have the technology but do not have the expertise to use it safely and clinically. My ambition is to be able to inspire and implement the advanced techniques and use of technology in such parts of the world.