Thursday, January 16, 2014

Barbara Hamrick and Roy Dunker Visit Georgian Chapter

HPS president Barbara Hamrick (left) and
GHPA vice president Lia Chelidze
by Roy Dunker

It has been a few months since I last visited Tbilsi and although some time has elapsed since this October 2013 visit I want to update everyone as to what is going on with the health physics chapter there. I have a bit of history with the Georgian Health Physics Association (GHPA), and maintain contact with its members. Most of you may be more familiar with GHPA as it is often referred to as the Georgian Health Physics Chapter. Ten years ago in San Diego, Brian Dodd first suggested to a few Idaho State University health physics students from the Republic of Georgia and me that we should help form a Georgian Chapter of the Health Physics Society. Here we are, ten years later with a recognized and ever influential membership in Georgia. I want to share with you a few highlights of my most recent visit and my impressions of Georgian Health Physics at the present milestone.
I typically visit with members in Tbilisi whenever I happen to find myself in-country. Shortly after the 2013 HPS annual meeting I contacted President-Elect Barbara Hamrick to inform her that in early October I would be in Tbilisi on vacation and asked if she would like to plan a Georgian chapter visit during this time. Barbara enthusiastically agreed, and so we made plans with GHPA to visit from October 6 to 11. GHPA loosely repeated the agenda of Darrel Fisher’s visit in January of 2013 for their second President-elect visit, and Barbara was the ideal HPS ambassador for this visit. It turns out, quite by coincidence, that the major theme for Barbara’s visit would be regulation and medical radiation safety. Her background in law and medical health physics, not to mention her appreciation of wine, went a long way to contributing to constructive discussions with the membership and others performing similar jobs in Georgia.

Since Darrel Fisher’s inaugural HPS President-Elect visit this past January, there have been governance and regulatory changes in Georgia which will affect the way radiation protection professionals can function in Georgia. “Health Physics” as a profession, discipline and practice has taken root. The current GHPA vice president Lia Chelidze has been appointed as Head of Department of Nuclear and Radiation Safety within the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Georgia and is tasked with overseeing the reformulation of all nuclear and radiation safety law under one roof in Georgia. Imagine how nice that would be if we had the luxury of a one-stop-shop for all our all radiation safety regulations! Currently the priority area of emphasis in this regulation rewrite is in regard to medical health physics. To support Georgia’s ‘100 Equality of Care Hospitals Initiative’ and aspirations to become an EU member, the realization that formal training and standards of practice need to be reformulated and mandated in law has arrived. On a similar theme, the Georgian Academy of Science has commissioned a committee, headed by GHPA member George Japaridze, to address nuclear energy and radiation safety problems in Georgia. This commission’s immediate objective is to advise Parliament and the Ministry of Education as to how to formally implement education curricula, training objectives and certification for medical radiation safety professionals in Georgia. Barbara and I had the pleasure to be invited by this commission to meet and share thoughts not only with this commission but with the president of the academy as well. Prior to this particular meeting Barbara had brought with her to Georgia two new copies of Cember’s Introduction to Health Physics. These were gifts from HPS to GHPA. One copy made its way to this commission and the gratitude of this simple gift was so warmly expressed that I feel I compelled to re-mention the idea of a text book donation program which Darrel Fisher previously initiated. Do you have an unused recent edition of a text? What edition of the Rad Health Handbook do you have collecting dust on your bookshelf? If you have any useful texts that you would like to donate please feel free to contact me and I will find out who will be traveling to Georgia and is able to take one or two with them.

To get a feel of the state of medical health physics practice in Georgia, Nino Kobalia (PhD student), Chief Medical Physicist, hosted us at the "Research Institute of Clinical Medicine". This center is the most modern in Georgia and coincidently is on nearly the same time schedule to commission a new Varian medical accelerator of the same model as Barbara’s home employer, University of California Irvine Medical Center.

The official meeting with the chapter took place on at the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics and a clear awareness was made that GHPA continues to face all the challenges of maintaining an active chapter as we do here in the US except they have the added challenges of language, distance, inconsistent employment of the membership and inadequate resources for professional development to say the least. The time has come in the development of Health Physics in Georgia that we as a society can look within at what we can do to promote chapter development with consideration of these unique challenges in Georgia.

I simply suggest that when any of you meet any of the Georgian health physics professionals here in the USA, please congratulate them on GHPA development and encourage their commitment to further developing this chapter and the profession in Georgia. If you don’t already know them, their names are Maia Avtandilashvili , Nino Chelidze, George Kharashvili, Vakho Makarashvili, George Tabatadze and Levan Tkvadze. These US graduated Health Physics professionals are the best conduit and hope for GHPA towards developing funding opportunities for sustainability of the health physics profession in Georgia, so if you are in the position of developing or participating in a cooperative grant proposal, please bounce an idea or two off any of these young professionals. In fact if you have any particular thoughts or words of encouragement you may comment via the MEMBERS/FORUMS section of the GHPA website.

GHPA has come a long way since conception and with greater and continued support from HPS and its membership so will the health physics profession in Georgia.

On a lighter note, when you see Barbara take a moment to ask her of her time in Tbilisi and her impressions of the GHPA and especially inquire of her opinion of the local cuisine, Kinkali,(Georgian dumplings), the local tomatoes, the wine and how the smoking regulations compare with those of California. You just may be inspired to visit as well.

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