ACPSEM can trace its roots to 1960, when the Hospital Physicists' Association was formed. 1977 saw Australia and New Zealand professional organisations incorporate in Victoria and named the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM). The initial aim of the organisation was to ensure the provision of the highest level of expertise and competence in the service of health care and to act as an education and qualifying body for scientists in this field.
The origins of the College and the APESM Journal are inextricably linked, and date back to the late 1950’s. To understand the long seventeen year gestation period, one has to begin by looking at the state of medical physics in Australia and New Zealand in the 1950s.
By 1950 in Britain, Europe and the United States hospital medical physics had become a separate recognised discipline, and in Britain in particular physicists enjoyed a measure of parity with the diagnostic radiologists and radio therapists with whom they were predominantly associated, exemplified by the fact that within the very democratic British Institute of Radiology they enjoyed full membership, and the Presidency of the BIR rotated annually through Diagnostic Radiologist, Radiotherapist and Medical Physicist. In the teaching hospitals, the hospital physicists taught physics to the radiology and radiotherapy students and they themselves studied anatomy and physiology (at least to a basic level) and also the interaction of radiation on living cells. There existed a high level of respect between the medical and physical disciplines.
Australia and New Zealand in 1950's
The situation in Australia and New Zealand in 1950 was completely different. Essentially there were only one or two physicists employed by hospitals and the radiologists and radiotherapists obtained their principal physics support from centralized laboratories. In Australia the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory, CXRL, (which became the Australian Radiation Laboratory, ARL, and is now part of Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, ARPANSA) had been established in Melbourne in the 1930s as a provider of Radium and Radon sources and X-ray standardisation. Later in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, satellite laboratories were set up, in Adelaide through the Anti-Cancer Council, in Sydney a Bureau of Physical Services located in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and in Brisbane at the University of Queensland Physics Department. In New Zealand there was a similar arrangement aligned to the Dominion X-ray and Radium Laboratory in Christchurch.
These details are important to record in order to appreciate the degree of centralization that existed and the relatively low base at which medical hospital physics, as we know it today, stood at the time.
There was very little contact between the physicists at the different locations, aggravated of course by the large distances between capital cities and the perceived difficulties of travel. The only subject orientated annual scientific meeting, vaguely relevant, to attend was that of the Australasian College of Radiologists, and although papers on medical physics were accepted there was little encouragement to participate. Attendance was generally only possible if the Annual Meeting was being held in one's own capital city.
Throughout the 1950s, with the introduction of linear accelerators and the increasing uses of radionuclides, the need for in-house hospital physics expertise assumed much greater importance and numbers grew. There was some increase in communication between medical physicists as they realized they were facing similar problems.
Early in 1959 all the physicists working in this field in Australia and New Zealand were approached, including those at Australian CXRL and New Zealand DXRL, asking them to advise of all known physicists, and requesting each to indicate their main areas of interest. Approximately 60 names were recorded. In December 1959 all 60 were provided the Australasian Newsletter of Medical Physics No.1 which listed the names and locations of each individual and their areas of interest.
Giving the Newsletter a numeral No.1 implied there would be further issues and the invitation was extended to all recipients to write brief accounts of work in progress, investigations in progress or completed, and references to any published work. And so began the long road to the Journal APESM.
Evolutionary progress was slow as there was no formal organisation. The Newsletter was an important communication link particularly because of the great distances between capital cities and the rare opportunities for official travel. The Newsletters were published quarterly in cyclostyled format on foolscap, the whole enterprise being funded, including secretarial assistance, by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, whose support was gratefully acknowledged.
The need for a basic organisation was explored by correspondence and at the Annual Conference of the College of Radiologists in late 1960, nine physicists met in Sydney, carrying the opinions of 40 others, to discuss formation of an Association. It reflects on the level of in-house support for travel that of the nine, only three were from States other than NSW and none from New Zealand.
A history of the formation of the Associations leading eventually to the establishment of the College has been well documented by David M. Kershaw (1998). Kershaw captured the difficulties experienced in trying to find a uniting identity for the varied interests, not helped by the inability to have face to face discussions (at a time long before videoconferencing).
The Newsletter meanwhile progressed in stature to include long articles reporting investigative studies and, by the mid 1960’s, it warranted a name change to the Australasian Bulletin of Medical Physics and Biophysics. It was then published, quarterly, by off-set printing and paid for from membership subscriptions. It was generally regarded as an important link for the ANZ group of scientists, but it was still a long way from 'recognised' journal status, and this made it difficult to attract high level scientific contributions. Much coercion was needed. Members appeared somewhat reluctant to submit an article for the Bulletin that they could not then cite as a 'recognised' publication, and they would in fact save their more serious work for submission to overseas journals. In that environment the progressive upgrading of the Bulletin was not easily achieved.
Foundation of the College
By the early 1970s the Annual Conferences on Medical Physics were being organised quite independently of other organisations, and both the Conferences and the Bulletin were broadening their coverage to include biomedical engineering, biomathematics, computer science and radiation protection. This brought with it the problem of a collective identity.
The next few years saw comparatively hectic activity leading to the formal declaration of the College at the Annual Conference in Brisbane in 1977. It had been agreed that a College structure was desirable, which would set standards and require recognised levels of competence. It was an ambitious step but it was considered that only such a College could gain the full respect of the medical fraternity.
The name of the College when first declared, was the Australasian College of Physical Scientists in Medicine, (ACPSM), the term physical scientists was intended, for brevity, to be an inclusive but understandably, the engineers were unhappy and within a short time the name was amended to the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine, (ACPSEM).
Bulletin becomes the Journal
With the formation of the College in August 1977 the Bulletin was upgraded to Journal status, first as Australasian Physical Sciences in Medicine (APSM) and later to Australasian Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine (APESM). The logo combining phi and psi was the brilliant inspiration of Ed Scull of Perth.
With this change the Journal was being sent to kindred societies, libraries and individuals throughout Australia and New Zealand and overseas, and the refereeing of papers was progressively made more pertinent and thorough by recruiting recognised authorities on to the editorial review board.
By the early 1980s the Journal had reached the standard where several International Abstracting Journals such as Excerpta Medica were prepared to receive it and publish the abstracts of its articles. The Journal was accepted on to the world stage. One event of particular unifying significance was the adoption of the Journal by the College of Bioengineers, Engineers Australia.
In retrospect it should not have taken seventeen years from the humble beginnings to the creation of the College and the Journal. That it did so is perhaps partly because of the communication difficulties that were experienced, and because of a certain lack of collective self-confidence in not identifying the high goals in the earlier years. But then hindsight has excellent 20/20 vision.
Reference Kershaw, D. M., A History of the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine ~ its Origins and the First Decade, Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine [ACPSEM], Melbourne, 1998, (ISBN 0-/646-/35591-/0). Kenneth Clarke Editor APESM 1977-1988 Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute 1954-1988.