Spotlight on Medical Dosimetry

Medical dosimetrists are members of the radiation oncology team, which includes radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiation therapists and oncology nurses. Medical dosimetrists ensure that radiation treatment promotes the highest radiation dose with the fewest side effects on the patient’s healthy organs. When a radiation oncologist prescribes radiation to a tumor, a medical dosimetrist creates a plan to deliver the prescribed radiation dose.

Cara Sullivan

These medical professionals have to be detail oriented, technologically savvy and ready to work with patients. To learn more about this health care career, we recently spoke with Cara Sullivan, President of the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists. (EHC): There are so many different careers to explore in health care. What inspired you to enter this specific field?
Cara Sullivan (CS):  I didn’t choose this field, this field chose me! I’ve always had a passion for science and loved working with people. Originally, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but I applied to become a radiological technologist while in x-ray school. During that time we had to do dosimetry rotations, and after day one it felt like a natural fit. If I could have predicted how the medicine for the field would have developed and become more incredible, I would’ve chosen it first.

EHC: How did you start out in the field?
CS: I’ve worked for about 23 years as a medical dosimetrist. I started in 1986 when the dosimetrists were getting overwhelmed. I had to take on that work and trained on-the-job (also known as OTJ). Eventually, I worked my way up and got board certified in 1989. The field has changed drastically since then. In the past, you would have to work your way up to the position through OTJ training. In 2017, it was decided that in order to become a medical dosimetrist, you must have a bachelor of science degree and then graduate from an accredited medical dosimetry program. While there isn’t a state or federal law that you need to be board certified, most hospitals require it.

EHC: Briefly describe your work experience as well as your current position and what it entails.
CS: I wear multiple hats. I work as a manager for a private physics consulting company that works with hospitals all over the United States. The company is made up of medical physicists and 35 dosimetrists. We have remote people and cover clinics remotely, and we also have an onsite dosimetrist.

EHC: What do the day to day tasks look like for a medical dosimetrist?
CS: There’s no typical day in medical dosimetry. Each day may have you complete the same functions, but you have to expect the unexpected. You could walk in and see that you only have a couple of CAT scans to work on that day. Then all of a sudden you have a bunch of emergencies and requests from doctors. Every day varies.

EHC: How do you feel overall about your chosen career?
CS: I have the coolest job in the world. It’s so different from most careers you can find out there and it’s a job with a need for young professionals. Many dosimetrists in the field are getting ready to retire, so we’re excited to take on interested students.

Check out the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists website to learn more about medical dosimetrists. 

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