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Sandra Fisher wins BHT Foundation Clinical Leadership Award

03 January 2023

Congratulations to Sandra Fisher, a medical physicist with Austin Health, who has been awarded the Better Healthcare Technology Foundation Clinical Leadership Award.

This award was given for work undertaken at the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) at Austin Health.

As Principal Medical Physicist, Sandra has led the clinical implementation, acceptance testing and commissioning of the newly established state-wide MRI service at the ONJCWC – a service centred around the installation of the first Elekta Unity MR Linac and dedicated Philips Ingenia MR Simulator in Victoria.

We spoke with Sandra about her role and this award.

Tell us a bit about your role at Austin Health
I commenced work at the ONJ in July 2020 as a principal medical physicist moving interstate from Sydney, whilst the MR in RT program was in its infancy and the machine installations had halted due to COVID-19.

My main responsibilities were to lead the acceptance testing, commissioning, and ongoing technical aspects of the clinical implementation of the newly acquired technology – an Elekta Unity MR Linac and a Philips Ingenia MR Simulator.

The first 18 months were certainly challenging having to overcome numerous obstacles in all stages of the work. However, we successfully treated our first clinical patient on the Unity in late 2021 which also happened to be the first brain cancer patient to be treated on the technology in Australia.

At the start of 2022, I took on the added responsibility of MR Program Lead to focus on expanding the clinical rollout of the technology whilst still providing the leadership and guidance to my colleagues around the technical aspects of the machine and its implementation.

Congratulations on the award. Could we please hear more?
It is a true honour to be the inaugural recipient of the BHT Foundation Clinical leadership award endorsed by our national professional organisation the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM).

The awards, offered by the college, recognise Medical Physics professionals who have made outstanding achievements and contributions in advancing healthcare services and professional standards for the benefit and protection of the community and this award in particular provides recognition for the role of the medical physicist in the clinical setting which substantially and directly benefits patients.

The award criteria focused on an individual’s leadership in successfully implementing a clinical project that would have: significant patient benefit (favouring greatest benefit to greatest number of patients), innovation (activities that demonstrate novel thinking, innovation, resourcefulness, collaboration and cooperation), applicability (activities that can be translated to achieve similar benefits in other clinics) and challenges to overcome relative to opportunity.

The award has been named after Vera Last – a remarkable medical physicist in New South Wales Radiation Oncology departments for several decades who was renowned for her dedication and diligence in patient care and for introducing multiple new techniques and technologies for clinical benefit.

The award being named in honour of Vera has extra special meaning for me as I actually commenced my career in Medical Physics at the Royal North Shore hospital as Vera retired (although she was often about volunteering her time and expertise) and I had the privilege to see first hard the impact Vera and her work had on our patients and I continue to draw inspiration from this as I have progressed through my career pathway.

Being nominated for this award and having my hard work and dedication to the project, the department and my profession recognised was indeed a great honour, but to then have been selected as the winner amongst my national colleagues is truly humbling.

What do you love most about your work?
Typically, a medical physicist works very much behind the scenes in a radiotherapy department but what’s different about the MR linac program and what I particularly enjoy most about my job is the multidisciplinary nature of the care that we provide and the fact that as a team together we all take an active part in adapting and personalising every patient’s treatment on a daily basis.

Being the only machine of its kind in the state, it has been a privilege to have the opportunity to work with the cutting-edge technology and be at the forefront of potential clinical improvements for our patients and this is certainly what motivates me to continue to do the work that I do.

The challenge of implementing something new can be very exciting albeit sometimes scary, but the most rewarding part for all the hard work, is seeing first-hand the impact we have on our patients their treatment journey.

Read more about the award announcement.