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UHNM Physicist wins national award for ultrasound research project


A physicist from University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) has won a national award in recognition of his research into ultrasound safety.

Sam Butler, a Clinical Scientist in Medical Physics, has been awarded the tile of ‘Young Investigator of the Year’ by the British Medical Ultrasound Society.

His research, titled ‘Assessment of Thermal Index Compliance in Clinical Ultrasound Examinations’, saw him analyse over 100,000 ultrasound images taken at UHNM to ensure current national and international guidelines are suitable.

Sam presented his findings to the society firstly in a report and then at their Annual Scientific Meeting in York.

He said: “My role in medical physics at UHNM is split between working in MRI and ultrasound. A lot of my work involves making sure the systems we have in the Trust are safe for patients to use, that involves a lot of testing on the machines to make sure they’re up to scratch.

“The award is based on work I did at UHNM looking at ultrasound safety. In ultrasound there are these indices, numbers that the sonographers are monitoring as part of their examination. These numbers tell the sonographer what the risk to the patient is in terms of heating and other mechanical effects that can cause some damage. But it was highlighted to me by a colleague that there’s no real evidence that anybody has assessed these guidelines that you’re meant to follow, and I thought that was quite a big gap that was missing.

“So I spent a bit of time working out how we could assess that, and it involved writing quite a bit of code and analysing images and reading these numbers and comparing them to the guidelines. What I wanted to do was get a comprehensive assessment over five working days of all the diagnostic ultrasound scanners at Royal Stoke and County including X-ray, A&E and Maternity, and then take all those images and get a really good understanding- there was about 100,000 images I analysed through the code.

“I then submitted the results and an abstract of the work to the British Medical Ultrasound Society, who accepted it as part of a physics session at their annual general meeting, as well as one of six pieces of work to be put forward for the Young Investigator of the Year Award. The Society liked it so much they also accepted it as part of their journal.”

As a result of being named Young Investigator of the Year, Sam, who’s 29 and has worked at UHNM since 2016, has been invited to represent the UK at the annual Euroson congress in Naples in November 2024.

Sam added: “I’ve always been interested in physics, I did it at A-level and then went to University of Birmingham and did a masters. To become a qualified clinical scientist, you go through a training programme called the Scientist Programme that’s a work-based training for three years here at UHNM and also associated with a university, so I got my second masters at Liverpool University as part of that training. I loved it so much here I was able to get a job immediately after that training and haven’t looked back.

“It’s great working at UHNM, I love it. The team here is fantastic, we get involved in patient care a lot more than other medical physicists at other centres and I get a lot of satisfaction driving the service forward, tyring new things to improve patient care. I’m currently on a training course to become a consultant clinical scientist and that’s something that the Trust are supporting me with.

“It’s nice to be involved in the whole process, from a question that a colleague had, right up to the assessment of the literature. It was quite a bit of work mainly in my own time at weekends, but personally it’s really satisfying getting the recognition that I’ve done a good job on something that was quite a lot of effort. It’s something that hopefully will shape future guidelines as it’s the first time somebody has assessed it on this scale.”

Sarah Prescott, Lead Clinical Scientist at UHNM said: “The physics team are incredibly proud of Sam’s fantastic achievement. Sam is a pleasure to work with, always willing to go above and beyond. This award is well deserved, and we wish him the best of luck when he represents the UK in Naples next year”.