The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)

The institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) is a charity, a professional body, and a learned society that has a mission statement that seeks to constantly improve human health by the application of physics and engineering to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease through research, innovation, education and clinical practice.  The institute has around 4700 members which comprise of physicists, engineers and technologists working in academia, industry and the NHS. The membership has a slight majority working for the NHS, around 55%, comprising clinical scientists, clinical technologists, and trainees. IPEM has its national office in York. IPEM itself is 30 years old, but the institute has its roots going back to 1942, when the Hospital Physicists Association was created.

Each year IPEM has an annual conference, normally in September. This year the three-day event was held recently in York, at the Racecourse, between September 18-20. The conference started with a members’ day, then a member’s concert, then two days of scientific lectures.  The theme of the conference was celebrating the 70 years since the birth of the NHS, but there were also history sessions going further back, and sessions looking ahead to the future. There were some very good proffered papers, and some excellent invited speakers, with many from outside the physics and engineering in medicine community.  There was a strong theme of big data, AI and innovation running through the conference.  On the first day, there were some excellent professional sessions, split into parallel sessions, for physicists, engineers, and technologists.  There were sessions on leadership, system thinking, innovation and industry.  There was a number of prize sessions, comprising talks from the best papers of IPEM’s three international journals.

There was an excellent discussion session involving the full conference about the engagement with the public and young people.  It was agreed that it is important to tell them what IPEM does, how the work carried out is essential for good healthcare, and to convince young people that the area is very worthwhile and an exciting career choice. But the consensus was that it is hard to do well, and that many of us are not natural communicators.

Interestingly, two coupled events happened the same day as the discussion which really helped, by chance, with the outreach agenda. One was the launch of the Little Linac project, where toy linacs are built from model bricks to help children cope with having radiotherapy. The idea is that play reduces stress and prepares the children for their radiotherapy. The other was the members’ concert, which was the idea of the president. The media were very fascinated with both events -The past president, Professor David Brettle, the driver behind the Little Linac project was interviewed on local television, and the president, Professor Mark Tooley was interviewed on local radio. These media were fascinated about the toys and the concert, but especially about what all the members did as a profession. There were many local dignitaries at the concert, including the deputy CSO, and they were again impressed with what members did, and they were amazed that physicists and engineers  have musical ability! The concert promoted the Little Linac project and raised quite a bit of money for this.

The conference also included the necessary legal aspects of running a society, such as the AGM, which was very well attended. The annual report and review were presented, and the fact that the organisation is doing very well, supported by a strong national office. IPEM has recently completed a review of its structures and committees, and the result that now the board of trustees is reduced to 12 members, with the balance shifted to more external, non-member trustees. There will be now a president’s advisory panel, and the committee structure will be supported by some new “communities of practice software” which will enable meetings to be more efficient, and virtual where possible.  This has just been purchased, as is being rolled out.

Professor Mark Tooley FREng

President IPEM