We ask Associate Professor James Lee, Chief Radiation Physicist in the Division of Radiation Oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), five questions to find out more about how he went from a career in physics to cancer treatment.
Assoc Professor James Lee, Chief Radiation Physicist
National Cancer Centre Singapore
1. After graduating from the National University of Singapore with a PhD in Physics you joined the Division of Radiation Oncology, NCCS as a Radiation Oncology Medical Physicist. How did you embark on this career path?
I wanted to be an academic, which is why I pursued a PhD, but in the last years of my studies I started to look around and saw a job opening at NCCS in 1998 for a medical physicist and I fit the requirements. I applied, got it and never looked back!
2. What do medical physicists do at NCCS?
My team and I are very involved in cancer patient care. We oversee quality assurance, treatment planning, implement new technologies and perform radiation dosimetry - which involves measuring and calibrating radiation of Medical Linear Accelerators and related devices that administer radiation therapy. To do that, we work closely with the radiotherapy team to make sure dose coverage is optimised on the tumours, perform dose calculations and ensure that the radiation is delivered as precisely as possible to minimise damage to surrounding normal tissues.
We are involved in the treatment of all types of cancers including head and neck, prostate, breast, ovarian, lung and others.
My team and I are also active in research, both in advancing medical physics and as part of a larger clinical research group. We also teach medical physics to radiation oncology professionals and physics students from tertiary institutions in Singapore.
3. What does it mean for you and Singapore to have been awarded Asia-Oceania Federation of Organisations for Medical Physics (AFOMP) Outstanding Medical Physicist Award?
I am honoured and humbled to receive this award. I believe it demonstrates that Singapore’s status in medical physics is starting to be recognised at an international level. I hope to encourage more people to join this field, as you can do exciting science and be an important part of caring for patients, which is a noble pursuit. Medical physics is indeed a unique field where you can apply natural science to directly improve people’s lives.
4. We understand you were instrumental in creating the first residency in Radiation Oncology Medical Physics (ROMP) programme in NCCS. Why is it important to have a specific ROMP residency?
Singapore is a small country, but our healthcare system has always been advanced. In order to train our medical physicists to the highest standards, it is important to have a programme that allows residents to be systematically trained both in practice and in a supervised setting, where clinically qualified medical physicists can teach and supervise them. Medical physics requires a deep understanding of both the theory and practical application for clinical use.
5. You are on a number of different committees and organisations, local and international. Can you share a bit about where you serve and what your aims are for growing these affiliations?
This is true! In addition to overseeing medical physics work as Chief Radiation Physicist, I am involved at the regional and international level as a regular speaker and organiser of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projects and workshops, am past president of the Southeast Asian Federation of Organizations for Medical Physics (SEAFOMP) and am the Scientific Chairman for a major medical physics world congress that will be held in Singapore in 2022. Additionally, I am actively involved in medical physics education at Nanyang Technological University and I currently serves as the President of the Society of Medical Physicists (Singapore).
I do all of this because when I decided that medical physics was going to be my career, I felt it was partly my responsibility to raise the profile of the field in Singapore. We are now an emerging leader in the region, and if me serving on these committees and taking on different responsibilities helps, I am happy to volunteer my time and efforts.
Assoc Professor James Lee (far left), Chief Radiation Physicist at the National Cancer Centre Singapore, with his team of medical physicists
Nanyang Technological University medical physics students in a Medical Linear Accelerator bunker
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