First radiation therapists graduate

By Kristen Holland Shear / Jan. 22-31, 2011

UT Southwestern School of Health Professions’ winter graduation ceremony included something new this year: the first class of radiation therapists.

Radiation therapists use machines — called linear accelerators — to administer treatment to patients. As part of a medical radiation oncology team, they work closely with radiation oncologists, as well as with medical radiation physicists, who calibrate the linear accelerators among other duties; and dosimetrists, who calculate the amount of radiation for each treatment.

The first graduates of the School of Health Professions’ Bachelor of Science in radiation therapy are (from left) Aline Kadadi and Rebecca Solis. Also completing the program, but not pictured, was Sienna Kim.

Students enrolled in UT Southwestern’s program receive classroom training at the health professions school and hands-on training in the radiation oncology clinics at UT Southwestern and Methodist Richardson Regional Cancer Center. Only four students are admitted a year.

Rebecca Solis, one of the three radiation therapy graduates, began the program after working as a research assistant here and then as a high school biology and chemistry teacher. The 36-year-old Dallas resident said she loved aspects of both jobs, but felt that something was missing.

“I am passionate about science and technology as well as helping and caring for others,” said Ms. Solis, now a radiation therapist in the Department of Radiation Oncology. “When I came across the program, I knew immediately that it was the career I was meant for. Being a radiation therapist allows me to experience the best of both worlds.”

Aline Kadadi and Sienna Kim were Ms. Solis’ fellow graduates from the program that resulted from a collaboration between the School of Health Professions and the Moncrief Radiation Oncology Center. School leaders launched the program, the first in North Texas and one of three statewide, in August 2008.

Ms. Solis said that the opportunity to pursue both classroom and clinical training from the outset is extremely helpful. “You become completely immersed in your studies and in your clinical rotations so that you immediately apply what you are learning in class to your patients in the clinic,” she said.

Carol Scherbak, assistant professor of radiation therapy and the program director, said that offering a bachelor’s degree and post-baccalaureate certificate in radiation therapy serves a need on campus and in the community.

“With the recent designation of the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center as a National Cancer Institute-designated center, and plans under way to build a state-of-the-art hospital on campus, patient services will most likely expand,” she said. “These developments indicate that the radiation therapy program will remain an essential part of the School of Health Professions for years to come.”