Sidsel Damkjær is a medical physicis specialized in radiotherapy. She works at the Department of Oncology at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital.

Where did you graduate from and with which degree?

I finished both my BSc, MSc and Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen. My BSc was a mix of physics and computer science, my master’s was primarily quantum optics, and my Ph.D. was in medical dosimetry in radiotherapy. My Ph.D. project was a co-operation between Risø/Technical University of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen.

After my Ph.D., I got a job as a medical physicist trainee at the department of radiotherapy at the Copenhagen University Hospital (Rigshospitalet). The program you follow to become a medical physicist in Denmark is standardized, so I ended up finishing my program while working at the department of radiotherapy at Næstved Hospital. For the last 2 years, I have been working at the radiotherapy department at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital.

Please give a description of the work you do in your current position.

In radiotherapy, cancer patients are receiving a treatment plan which consists of fractions of dose delivered to the tumor site from different angles. The dose is delivered by high-energy X-rays generated from a linear accelerator. Most commonly, the treatment plan is delivered to the patient every weekday for a period of two to five weeks. To ensure the correct volume is treated every time, ordinary X-ray images are obtained just before the treatment to be able to move the patient to the correct position. The treatment plan is created either by a radiographer or a physicist.

The job of the physicist is roughly in three categories: 1) Quality control of the treatments. This consists of ensuring the treatment plan meets constraints set either locally, nationally or internationally. When the patient has started the course of treatment, the physicist checks the X-ray images. The physicist also assists the staff who are treating the patient at the accelerator, if any problems occur during positioning of the patient or with the treatment plan. 2) Quality control of the accelerators to ensure they operate in such a way that the created treatment plan is also what is delivered to the patient. 3) Improve the treatments by introducing new equipment and procedures. It is common that new knowledge is shared by presenting it either at national or international conferences and meetings or in peer-reviewed papers.

As you probably can see: the days of a medical physicist are very diverse.   

How do you use the skills you learned as a physicist or engineer in your work?

This is a very good question. I believe I use the skill of learning new stuff as well as how to work systematically. The knowledge of basic atomic physics and the processes of scattering is somewhere in the back of my head and I think I use this knowledge without thinking much about it.

What made you decide to pursue a career in the public sector?

I decided to have a closer look at medical physics after having read a job ad in one of the national union magazines for academics during my BSc. The ad was very short and I had never heard about medical physics before, but I was intrigued.

What motivated you to study physics or engineering in the first place? 

It was the stars 😊 I wanted to study astronomy – and to do that, I had to study physics. I considered the Universities in Århus and Copenhagen. My math teacher at the gymnasium gave me the advice that if I wanted to learn something, I should learn it from the best – so I had to study at the Niels Bohr Institute 😊

What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in the private industry or public sector? 

The advice I would give to young people who want to be a medical physicist is the following: Try to follow courses that have something to do with medical physics and ask the teachers for contacts at the hospital. I managed to have a talk and a tour twice at Rigshospitalet during my BSc and MSc – to know a little about what the demands were to be considered for a position. Dare to follow courses at different institutions eg. the Technical University of Denmark. Approach the departments at the hospitals and ask for projects which could help them. Consider doing a Ph.D. in medical physics. Don’t give up.