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Medical Physicists Offer Expertise and Guidance to Cancer Patients

Today, cancer patients all too often undergo cancer treatment with only a radiation oncologist, and perhaps a nurse, directly responsible for their care. It can be extremely beneficial, however, for a radiation therapy medical physicist to also develop an independent relationship with the patient—helping to guide them through the complexities of their radiation therapy.

At UC San Diego Health, a “Physics Direct Patient Care Initiative” is improving patients’ care and their overall experience during cancer treatment. The goal of this initiative is, in part, to fundamentally challenge what it means to be a radiation therapy medical physicist.

What can patients expect from medical physicists? “We meet with patients at their consult or before their CT simulation to establish a relationship and provide an overview of their care,” explains Todd Atwood, Ph.D., an assistant professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Then we meet with patients again prior to their first treatment to review their treatment plan and discuss their radiation delivery. We also make ourselves available at any time during the patient’s course of treatment, and encourage them to contact us directly so that we can address any technical questions that may arise.”

CT Scan
Dr. Atwood explaining the treatment delivery process to a patient.

This level of clinical interaction leads to better-informed treatment decisions and is also helping to cultivate a future in which medical physicists will play an essential role on the treatment team—along with the surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist—to ensure that each patient receives the best possible treatment and has a less stressful experience.

“In our minds, this is only the beginning,” Atwood says. “As we expand the scope of our profession, we envision this becoming an integral contribution of the medical physicist to direct patient care.”