Patients at Willmar Regional Cancer Center (WRCC) may not have ever seen Joe Schmidt, a medical physicist, or even know what he does, but he plays an integral role in providing radiation care to cancer patients.
Radiation Technology to Medical Physicist
When Joe first entered the medical profession, he was a radiology technologist. At the time, he didn’t know that his passion for the field would lead him down the road to becoming a medical physicist after first pursuing careers as a radiation therapist, medical dosimetrist and head of the radiation program at the University of Minnesota.
“I didn’t enter the radiation field intending to become a medical physicist, but the further along I got in my career, the more interesting physics was to me so I went for it. I’m glad I did,” Joe said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.”
Medical physicists can work in clinical or hospital service areas like Joe does at Willmar Regional Cancer Center. They can also pursue careers in research and development or teaching. But Joe knew he wanted to work as closely as he could with patients to help them during their cancer journey. Though Joe doesn’t work one-on-one with patients, he works together with a team to develop the radiation treatment plans for individual patients.
“I love what I do. I don’t interact with patients as much as I did when I first began my career, but it’s humbling to know that what I’m doing every day makes a difference in the lives of our patients,” he said. “Working with cancer patients can be a very emotional thing, but it’s also one of the most rewarding career paths I could imagine.”
Though every day is a little different, his role at the WRCC is to assure the safe and effective delivery of radiation to each radiation patient. Joe works closely with each member of the radiation care team including oncologists, therapists, nurses and the medical dosimetrist.
For every radiation oncology patient treated at the Cancer Center, Joe must review their treatment plan with the medical dosimetrist. The doctor’s prescription for treatment determines how much radiation is needed to target the cancer in a patient’s body, but it is Joe’s knowledge of radiation physics that enables the prescribed dose to be delivered. It’s why he’s frequently seen consulting with the Cancer Center’s radiation oncologists to collaborate on each patient’s treatment plan. Joe is also in charge of checking the radiation equipment and software to be sure it is performing as it should. Everything Joe does ensures the health and safety of radiation patients at WRCC.
“If you asked most people what a medical physicist was, they’d have no idea. What we do is behind-the-scenes,” he said. “It’s just one piece in the large puzzle of providing quality care to cancer patients when they need us most, and I’m honored to play my part to help them at a tough time in their lives.”