Why and How Did I Become a Dosimetrist?

Posted by & filed under My Oncology Career Path.

Laura Brady, CMD, RT (R)(T)

When I was asked to write a story on why and how I became a dosimetrist I thought it would be clear and straightforward. The actual “how” is, but not the why. I am a Certified Medical Dosimetrist as well as a Radiation Therapist. The mystery for me is the “why” I ended up in Radiation Therapy; entering Dosimetry was a natural progression.

What is a certified medical dosimetrist you ask? According to the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists (AAMD) The Medical Dosimetrist is a member of the radiation oncology team who has knowledge of the overall characteristics and clinical relevance of radiation oncology treatment machines and equipment, is cognizant of procedures commonly used in brachytherapy and has the education and expertise necessary to generate radiation dose distributions and dose calculations in collaboration with the medical physicist and radiation oncologist. In other words, the medical dosimetrist does the behind-the-scenes planning of radiation therapy, working closely with the doctors and physicists who are also working on this and caring for the patients.

So how did I get on this career path? Allow me to explain. I had been focused in a business curriculum in high school with the strong belief that accounting would be the career for me. Then midway through my senior year I started to have doubts about the path I was on. I decided to take a year off and explore my options. My best friend was enrolled in a Radiography program. After graduation, while trying to figure out what I wanted my career to be, I spent many days helping her study. I decided that I too would like to enter the field of Radiography. I applied and was accepted to a two year certificate program. During that time, I discovered that I loved learning about human anatomy and the imaging of it, but more importantly, I discovered what I really I enjoyed was the constant daily interaction with people. As a student in the Radiography program, we are exposed to or educated on all disciplines under Radiologic Sciences. I did a clinical rotation through ultrasound and nuclear medicine and was informed through lectures about Radiation Therapy. This was the discipline I decided I wanted to pursue virtually sight unseen. I shared my interests with one of the Radiologists who tried to steer me away from the field of Radiation therapy stating that it would be depressing. Thank goodness I did not heed his advice and applied to a Radiation Therapy program. About a year in to my Radiation Therapy training I was on my way out of my clinical site and thought, “how did I end up here?” That is the big question that remains unanswered for me.

I completed my Radiation Therapy training and worked in the field for 11 years as a Radiation therapist. Then my employer offered me the opportunity to train in dosimetry. There were no formal programs for Medical Dosimetry, so on the job training was the traditional route to take. To be a dosimetrist is to be a critical part of a radiation oncology team. You work with Radiation Oncologists, physicists and Radiation therapists to help develop and implement the best treatment plan for a patient requiring Radiation. Being a radiation therapist, I would see the patients on average 5 days a week for several weeks. It was so rewarding to develop a relationship with them and have such a hands on role in their care. I was hesitant to give this up; however, I was ready to learn a new skill and grow professionally. So into dosimetry training I went. After completing my training I worked for several years to gain the experience that was needed to be eligible to take the CMD exam given by the Medical Dosimetry Certification Board (MDCB). I obtained my certification in 2003.

Technology has advanced greatly since I became a dosimetrist. I have worked in both community and university settings. Depending on which environment you work in, you may or may not have an opportunity to meet the patient, but your role is the same. You are working as part of a team to plan the best way to approach the treatment for a patient requiring radiation and to minimize the side effects while doing that. Back to the unanswered question of how did I end up here – I still don”t know. But I know that this is the career for me. It is at times extremely challenging and most definitely always rewarding. You are making a difference in the life of a patient.