This latter approach formed the basis of the Physics Pheud!, an intriguing conference session in which attendees got to share their opinions on a series of strategic questions covering the science, education and professional practice of medical physics. Devised byMarc KesslerJeffrey Siewerdsen and Kristy Brock, the event attracted a peak audience of more than 350 delegates.

The game comprised four main rounds of questions, based around the themes: "The AAPM Annual Meeting", "Technology", "The Phuture" and "Medical Phyzix". Each question had four possible answers, and attendees indicated their responses using audience participation units. Meanwhile, two on-stage teams – the "Which Hazles", captained by AAPM President John Hazle, and the "Wizards of Ezz", captained by AAPM Chair of the Board Gary Ezzell – competed to win points by correctly guessing the most popular responses.

The possible answers to each question were loosely based on the replies expected from four caricatured "virtual" characters: the Scientist, the Clinician, the Vendor and the Robot. These virtual characters also competed among themselves, earning points whenever the majority chose their particular response.

Hosted by the ebullient Kessler, and refereed by AAPM President-Elect John Bayouth, the session kicked off with beach balls flying and the team captains strutting their way down the aisle to blasting rock themes. "From the starting music, the audience could tell this was something different," said Siewerdsen. "They really seemed to get it, and they had fun."

Ask the audience

Fun aside, there were some serious questions to be answered. The first round, for example, tackled issues surrounding the AAPM annual meeting itself, with audience members citing access to the latest scientific research as the most valuable aspect of the meeting, and picking the 8.00 a.m. education sessions as their favourite session type. The meeting's biggest shortfall, meanwhile, was the lack of time available to attend the large number of sessions.

Round two examined developments in medical physics technology. When asked about the future of MRI for radiotherapy guidance, the most popular reply was that it will be "applicable to a broad range of treatment sites" (the Clinician's reply), closely followed by "excellent for a few certain treatment sites" (from the Scientist). On gauging the audience's thoughts on proton therapy, over two-thirds of respondents said that "it needs clinical trials demonstrating improved outcomes" (again from the Clinician).

Some of the audience choices proved somewhat unexpected. In the future-gazing session, for example, the answer to the question "In 30 years, radiation therapy will be:" was almost equally split between "the same, but with much better tools" (the Vendor's answer) and "secondary to cellular/molecular therapy" (the Clinician), with the latter slightly edging a win.

"That sort of statistical dead heat suggests something of the two hemispheres of medical physics that seem to be at play right now," explained Siewerdsen. "One focused on the professional and practical issues of high-quality day-to-day clinical care, and the other looking to scientific research to advance the field and the fight against disease."

Perhaps the biggest surprise came in the final round, with a question asking why the audience became medical physicists. The response "to earn a good salary in a stable job" outscored "to advance the scientific field" by more than two to one.

"It was not a scientific or statistically unbiased poll, of course, but it was fascinating to see the results in real time," said Siewerdsen. "With upwards of 120 responses to each question, we were able to measure the pulse of the audience fairly well. We even distributed extra audience response units to make sure respondents were reasonably well distributed across the different demographics of meeting attendee."

And the winner is...

At the end of the four rounds, and a deciding round entitled the "Phinal Pheud!", the game was won by the "Which Hazles", who scored a come-from-behind victory by correctly matching the audiences thoughts on the area of greatest importance to the future of medical physics. The most popular response was "ground-breaking scientific research", narrowly beating "safe, effective clinical practice".

Among the virtual characters, the Clinician scored the most points, closely followed by the Scientist. "It's clear that medical physics is a highly varied field and that medical physicists are a highly varied group," Siewerdsen concluded. "The game suggested that medical physicists are somewhat equal parts scientist, clinician and robot – the last of whom was in many ways the strongest character, a machine built for critical thinking – in what one can only hope is a healthy mix."

And would they repeat the event? "I would love to do something like this again," said Kessler. "Especially now that (more) people realize that having fun and discussing serious issues are not orthogonal activities and can even be synergistic!" Siewerdsen agreed. "Absolutely," he toldmedicalphysicsweb. "How often do you get to play 20-questions with 350 of your smartest friends?"

The Physics Pheud! drew in around 350 attendees