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Thompson’s Experts: Mentoring the Future of Cancer Care

Posted on February 21, 2022 in Blog

The Thompson Cancer Survival Center team’s mission to put patients first and strive to consistently achieve excellence can be witnessed daily in the teams’ interactions caring for patients. Thompson also demonstrates this mission in ways that may not be as obvious, such as supporting and investing in a robust Clinical Research program, acquiring and maintaining the latest in cancer care technologies, and shaping the future of cancer care by hosting and mentoring medical physics students who will be part of the cancer care teams of tomorrow.



TCSC Chief Medical Physicist Dr. Chester Ramsey with physics students Austin Harnage and Eden Ross.

Thompson Cancer Survival Center (TCSC) is an approved placement site for students in the Masters of Science in Medical Physics program at The University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK). Chief Medical Physicist at TCSC, Chester Ramsey, Ph.D., DABR, DABMP, is the supervising director at TCSC. Students placed at TCSC are working on research practice projects requiring independent, in-depth clinical research on a topic related to Medical Physics. The findings of these engineering practice projects will be presented in a thesis format. In addition to the research projects, the students must pass a comprehensive oral examination to earn their degree.

What is Medical Physics?

Medical physics is the use of physics within healthcare. There are three major areas of work in which to concentrate: research and development, clinical service and consultation, or teaching. Medical physicists have earned advanced scientific degrees, such as Masters or Doctoral degrees. After earning an advanced degree, medical physicists still must complete a minimum of a two-year residency and pass a three-part board certification.

Medical physicists working in the clinical setting are responsible to monitor and confirm that radiation is used safely and accurately for diagnostics and treatments of patients. These healthcare professionals apply their specialized knowledge to work with physician colleagues in patient care, develop new medical techniques, and maintain quality assurance (QA) programs to monitor and test equipment and delivery systems making sure they are functioning as intended.

A vital part of the radiation oncology team, the medical physicist works closely with the radiation oncologist. The medical physicist uses sophisticated equipment and computer programming to ensure the doses of radiation the physician has prescribed are the amounts that get delivered to the patient.

Two students begin research

In late 2021, Dr. Ramsey accepted two students to work on their research projects at TCSC, Eden Ross and Austin Harnage.  Both have chosen projects based on hypotheses they suspect will improve radiation oncology treatment practices and patient experience during treatment.

Eden Ross’s project focuses on the production of the masks used to stabilize patients during external beam radiation treatments of cancers on the Gamma Knife system. She hopes her modifications will lead to fewer treatment interruptions due to fractional movements and therefore better outcomes.  

Austin Harnage’s project deals with a specific brachytherapy delivery system called tandem and ovoid (T&O) used to treat gynecologic cancers. He is investigating whether modifications in the design and Artificial Intelligence can help decrease treatment planning times and improve clinical outcomes. This project underwent peer review and was one of only fifty studies selected for presentation at the upcoming Spring Clinical Meeting of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine to be held in New Orleans in March of 2022.  

Timelines to completion

These students’ intense projects will likely take a year or more to fully investigate and evaluate any findings. We will follow up on their progress and share the outcomes.

In the meantime, we wish them well and are excited to play a role in moving cancer care forward.


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American Association of Physicists in Medicine:

University of Tennessee Knoxville, Academic Catalog:

American Society of Radiation Oncology: