about

What is a Medical Dosimetrist?

A medical dosimetrist is an analytical member of the radiation oncology team who works closely in collaboration with the radiation therapists, medical physicists, and radiation oncologists within the department. A medical dosimetrist has an overall knowledge of math, physics, anatomy & physiology, radiobiology, and knows the characteristics and clinical relevance of radiation oncology treatment machines and equipment. With their expertise, medical dosimetrists design, generate, and measure radiation dose distributions and dose calculations while providing oversight to high level treatment procedures in both external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy.

Learn more about medical dosimetry in this PowerPoint presentation, "What is Medical Dosimetry?"

The Profession

Following consultation, the patient is simulated for tumor localization to ensure reproducibility and accuracy of treatment. The simulation consists of a CT scan of the specific area where the tumor or area of interest is located. During simulation, a medical dosimetrist may assist in creating molds and/or immobilization devices to establish the best body position for accurate daily treatment delivery. The radiation oncologist decides on the specific treatment modality and radiation dosage, based on the patient’s tumor type, stage, and location of cancer. CT scans, alone or in combination with MRI or PET scans, allow the physician to map out the exact location of the area to be treated. Medical dosimetrists use their knowledge and skills in conjunction with advanced computer technology to design a treatment plan specifically for each patient.

 

Clinical medical dosimetrists will typically specialize in one or more of the following types of radiation:

  • External Beam Radiation Therapy- radiation delivered from outside the body to the tumor or treatment area.
    • Photon therapy- administered by a machine called a linear accelerator, which is a sophisticated device that produces high energy therapeutic x-rays that are used to treat tumors.
    • Proton therapy- treatment that uses high-energy proton beams to treat tumors. Proton beams are generated by an extremely large and complex particle accelerator—only a few dozen exist in the US.
  • Brachytherapy- a radioactive source is placed directly inside or next to the area where the tumor is located. The radioactive source can be either temporary or permanent.

In external beam radiation therapy, the medical dosimetrist will carefully select the treatment technique, beam angles, and beam shapes to deliver a high dose of radiation to the tumor while sparing as many healthy cells and organs as possible. Once the medical dosimetrist has developed the best treatment plan given the anatomy, tumor location, and dose, the radiation oncologist will review and approve the plan.

Before the treatment plan can be executed, members of the radiation oncology team work together by performing rigorous quality assurance checks to ensure that the treatment plan is safe and effective. A medical dosimetrist will communicate the patient’s treatment plan to the radiation therapists by providing field arrangements, beam modification devices, and any concerns that may arise during treatment planning phase.  Medical dosimetrists may perform or assist a medical physicist with radiation measurements including ion chamber, thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLD), or film measurement. Another area a medical dosimetrist can contribute to quality assurance and safety is by providing technical and physics support.  This support could be in radiation protection, qualitative machine calibrations, and/or quality assurance of the radiation oncology equipment.

In conclusion, a medical dosimetrist is a vital member of the radiation oncology team who performs calculations for accurate delivery of the radiation oncologist's prescribed dose, documents pertinent information in the patient record, and verifies the mathematical accuracy of all calculations.

Skills

  1. Knowledgeable in the areas of anatomy, physiology, clinical oncology, radiobiology, radiation physics, and radiation safety.
  2. Expertise in the technical aspects of radiation oncology and medical physics to develop optimal treatment plans which include multi-modality imaging (MR, PET) for use in rigid and deformable registration, respiratory gating, and daily assessment of CBCT for dose tracking and possible treatment adaptation.
  3. Knowledgeable in health care informatics-including the resources, devices, and methods to acquire, store and retrieve data. Tools include computers and software such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as well as clinical guidelines, current medical terminology, information, and communication systems.
  4. Possess good communication and interpersonal skills to facilitate the exchange of information with patients, family members, and the radiation oncology treatment team as well as outside entities.
  5. Demonstrates high level critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to include the ability to make quick evaluation and decisions for on-line adaptive responsibilities.
  6. Works independently, but in collaboration with the radiation oncologist and medical physicist.
  7. Demonstrates a working knowledge of radiation safety principles and practices as well as current rules and regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other regulatory agencies.
  8. Exhibits the ability to interpret criteria and develop treatment plans as defined by relevant treatment protocols.
  9. Displays mathematical skills including algebra, trigonometry, and introductory calculus.
  10. Knowledgeable in conducting clinical research including collecting data, implementing a study, and writing papers for publication.
  11. General understanding of scripting across various programming languages.

View a detailed dosimetry job description.

Career Outlook

The future job market for medical dosimetry is strong. Advancements in treatment planning increase the demand for qualified medical dosimetrists. Wages are comparable with other healthcare professions. Given the diversity and ever-changing technology of the job, lifelong career satisfaction is achievable.

Medical dosimetrists can work in different types of environments and choose different roles in the radiation oncology profession.  Here are some career paths dosimetrists may take:

  • Clinical
  • Research and development
  • Education
  • Locum tenens
  • Vendor applications and sales
  • Administration

Review more information on dosimetry career paths.

 

Images used with permission.

Content updated: July 2020