November 10, 2008

SIUC now offering master’s in medical dosimetry

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is now offering a master’s degree in medical dosimetry, just the second university in the country to do so. Medical dosimetrists provide a life-saving service, working with radiation oncologists in planning the most effective and least debilitating treatment possible for cancer patients.

This SIUC program has expanded dramatically since its inception as a post-baccalaureate certificate program in August 2005. A year later, the program earned Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accreditation. Illinois Board of Higher Education approval in October 2007 allowed replacement of the certificate with a master’s program.

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools extended its accreditation to include the Master of Science degree in medical dosimetry this fall, effective for the spring 2009 semester. SIUC was the third institution in the nation to earn the JRCERT accreditation, said program director Scott Collins, associate professor in the radiologic sciences program and certified medical dosimetrist. Just one other university currently has a master’s program, while another is seeking approval.

A Bachelor of Science degree, preferably in radiation therapy, is a prerequisite for admission to the master’s program at SIUC. Collins said the master’s program allows students to earn a degree that’s truly representative of their educational level. Upon completion of six months of applicable work experience, graduates are eligible to test for medical dosimetry certification. Those not following the formal education route in seeking a career in the field must complete a minimum of two years of on-the-job training (OJT) in the medical dosimetry field before testing.

Typically, students completing a formal education program score better on the national exam than those going through the OJT route. Formal educational programs expose students to all aspects of dosimetry whereas individuals utilizing the OJT option typically learn only the duties required for their specific positions, according to Collins. Students completing the Medical Dosimetry Program at the School of Allied Health in the SIUC College of Applied Sciences and Arts will have a head start toward a well-paid career.

“Every one of the graduates from our program who wants a job within this field can find one somewhere in the United States,” Collins said.

The medical dosimetry program currently has an enrollment of 10 students. However, they don’t come to the Carbondale campus for classes. That’s because the program actually operates in affiliation with major medical centers at various sites in Missouri, the greater Chicago area, Oklahoma and Michigan. SIUC medical dosimetry students work full-time for 50 weeks at large hospitals during the year-long training program. They also attend six hours of classroom instruction weekly with Collins and other instructors, all via video-conferencing.

“It’s just as if they’re in the Carbondale classroom but, they’re actually six or eight hours away,” Collins said. “It is face to face, live interaction.”

He notes that the classes all meet simultaneously and the video-conferencing allows students and professors to all see and hear each other. The program involves considerable independent study and homework as well.

Collins said medical dosimetry is an important and growing field. The dosimetrists work with oncologists to plan the best possible cancer treatments for patients, calculating proper radiation doses for various areas of the body so as to attain the maximum benefit in fighting cancer while minimizing as best they can the treatment side effects.

There’s a shortage of medical dosimetrists in the U.S. According to a 2002 radiation oncology workforce study, at that time the country had 2,800 practicing medical dosimetrists but there was need for at least 700 more. Plans call for expanding the SIUC program to other sites in the future.