November 13, 2007

Only the second university in the country SIUC now offers master's in medical dosimetry

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. — As just the second university in the nation to offer a master's degree in medical dosimetry, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is at the forefront of providing critical life-saving education and training.

Medical dosimetrists serve a crucial role, working in conjunction with radiation oncologists to plan the most effective and least debilitating treatment for cancer patients. The SIUC dosimetry program has grown dramatically since created as a post-baccalaureate certificate program in August 2005. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accredited the program in the fall of 2006. The Illinois Board of Higher Education approved the master's program, replacing the certificate, during its October meeting.

According to program director Scott Collins, associate professor in the University's radiologic sciences program and himself a certified medical dosimetrist, just one other university currently has a master's program while another is planning to seek approval. SIUC was just the third institution in the country with a program certified by JRCERT. Admission to the program requires a Bachelor of Science degree, preferably in radiation therapy.

Collins said the master's program gives students the opportunity to earn a degree recognizing their level of learning and, after six months of applicable work experience following graduation, test to become fully certified as medical dosimetrists. Those not following the formal education route must complete at least two years of on-the-job training. Collins said they typically don't do as well on the national examination because they usually don't benefit from training in all of the diverse aspects of dosimetry.

The training provided by the School of Allied Health within SIUC's College of Applied Sciences and Arts gives those completing the program a big jump toward a good-paying job too, he said.

"Every one of my graduates who wants a job in this field can find one somewhere in this country," Collins said.

There are currently seven students in the medical dosimetry program, but you won't see them going to classes on the Carbondale campus. That's because the program works in affiliation with major medical centers at eight locations in Missouri, the Chicago area and Oklahoma. Officials anticipate expanding to additional sites in the future. Students work at the large hospitals full-time, 50 weeks during the yearlong training program. Plenty of independent study and homework is involved too.

Through video-conferencing, the students spend six hours each week with Collins and other instructors. As they sit in classrooms around the country, they are able to see and converse with Collins, live via virtual classroom technology.

"It's just like they're in the classroom here but they're six to eight hours away," Collins said. "The classes all meet at the same time. They can see and hear each other and me and I can see and hear them. It's face to face, live interaction."

The students learn how to work with oncology physicians to plan the best cancer treatments and calculate radiation doses for various parts of the body to have the maximum cancer-fighting benefit while minimizing as much as possible the side effects. Medical dosimetry is an important and growing field, Collins noted.

There's a national shortage of medical dosimetrists. A 2002 radiation oncology workforce study revealed that although there were at that time more than 2,800 practicing dosimetrists, there was need for at least 700 more.

"We're very excited to be able to offer a master's degree in medical dosimetry," Collins said.