Shona Whittam



Robert Pattinson School and Sixth Form (1999-2006),The University of Hull (2006-2010), Kings College London (2012-2014)


A-Levels in Physics, Maths Mechanics, Sociology, Psychology. Undergraduate Masters Degree in Applied Physics. Postgraduate Masters Degree in Medical Physics.

Work History:

NHS 2010-present in various roles in Radotherapy

Current Job:

Radiotherapy Physicist



Me and my work

My work in Radiotherapy Physics involves planning patient’s cancer treatments, looking after the machines that deliver the treatments (Linear Accelerators) and doing measurements to ensure the patient receives the correct dose of high-energy X-Rays.

In Radiotherapy radiation, in the form of high energy X-Rays, is used to treat cancer.

Large machines called Linear Accelerators are used to deliver a ‘dose’ of radiation. When talking about radiation, dose is energy deposited per unit mass.  If the energy of the X-Rays is deposited in the mass of the tumour then the cancer cells will be destroyed.

However, we can’t just give a really high dose to a tumour as doing this would give a high dose to healthy organs surrounding the tumour.  If healthy cells receive too much dose they too will be destroyed.  Treatments are given over several weeks with one treatment a day which gives the healthy cells time to repair whilst not allowing the cancer cells to repair. As a medical physicist I am involved in every step of the process:

First, a patient has a CT scan and I perform regular checks on the CT scanner to ensure it is scanning properly. The images from the CT scan are sent to a computer where I outline all the healthy organs and the Oncologist outlines the tumour. I then produce a treatment plan to deliver a high dose to the tumour but the lowest dose possible to the healthy organs.



This image shows a treatment plan for Oesophagus cancer where we want to destroy the tumour (red) but spare the heart (bright pink), spine (light pink), lungs (blue) and liver (yellow).


Physicists do lots of checks on the plan and take measurements on the treatment machines to ensure the treatment is safe and accurate.  We also have to perform checks on the devices we use to do the machine checks.

One measurement I do on the treatment machines uses a dose-measuring device (called an ionisation chamber) to check the machine is giving the correct dose. I regularly check the ionisation chambers are giving correct readings which I do using a radioactive  source.


myimage5 This picture shows me using a radioactive source to check the dose-measuring device




My Typical Day

Typical Monday: Start at 9am, record results from last weeks patient dose measurements, get equipment ready for afternoon machine checks, import a patients’ CT scan into the planning system and outline the healthy organs, call the Oncologist to come and outline the tumour, LUNCH 12-1pm, machines checks all afternoon to ensure the treatment machine is behaving as it should be mechanically and dosimetrically, home-time at 5.30pm.

This is me posing next to a linear accelerator


and doing measurements on the linear accelerator.


What I'd do with the money

I’d organise an open day to show students what work we do in Radiotherapy bringing with me our virtual linear accelerator and 3D goggles. The school students could have a go at doing my job or see it from the patients perspective.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

1. Sociable 2. Organised 3. Hungry

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Can’t pick just one. I like popular music like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith and George Ezra. My husband is always making me listen to wrestling entrance songs. & last year I went to see a Leonard Cohen concert & that was amazing-reminded me of my childhood.

What's your favourite food?

Probably Mexican food. Nachos and burritos.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Recently getting married was fun as it was a big party where I was the centre of attention, we got loads of presents then got to go on holiday.

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was younger I wanted to be a vet.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yes, for bad hand writing and talking in class.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I have to say Physics. I liked Sociology too which I did as an A-Level.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I won a national prize for a research project I did.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My physics teacher and my dad. I became a medical physicist because I wanted to use my science degree to help people with cancer.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A zoo keeper. In the big cats enclosure.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. To win big on the lottery. 2. To have Bernard’s watch. 3. I might have to save the 3rd for an emergency.

Tell us a joke.

Why should you never trust an atom? Because they make up everything.

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is me at my desk where I do calculations, record results, check emails and eat sweets. We get a lot of sweets as a thank you from patients.