November 3, 2020
The Physicists that Inspire Us

November 7th is an important day for our community, one in which we celebrate the collective contributions of medical physicists in healthcare. From diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine to radiation therapy, the impact of medical physics in both diagnosis and treatment is broad, with physicists working to apply physical principles to solve problems in medicine.

For the lead up to this year’s International Day of Medical Physics, we asked our team to shout-out a physicist that has inspired them. And by joining us in celebrating the physicists who make a difference in our community, you could win an electron tree!

Tell us about who inspires you and why in the comments below or on social media by tagging us and you’ll be entered to win. The winner will be announced on December 7th, 2020.

Source: GIFER

Dennis Mah supervised and mentored me at ProCure in New Jersey, my first job out of residency in 2013. Dennis joined ProCure as the chief medical physicist, but at the time he had no background in protons—it was still an emerging modality. A natural educator and lifelong learner, Dennis took on the challenge of starting a proton center while immersing himself and studying proton therapy.

Dennis created a culture in the physics department that encouraged asking questions, teamwork, and urgency in patient care. I was lucky enough to sit next to Dennis in our physics cubicles, hearing stories about the field, the big names in AAPM, and nerdy jokes. Dennis has the ability to take complicated concepts and translate them into ways everyone could understand. A diligent and hard-working physicist, I admire Dennis Mah and thank him for all his contributions on Medical Physics Day!”

-Elisabeth Van Wie

“There have been a number of physicists that have had a meaningful impact in my development as a medical physicist, but one that I remember emulating a lot early in my career was Cynthia Malmer. As one of my mentors at Northwest Medical Physics Center during my internship prior to graduate school, she gave me significant trust very early, which helped develop my clinical confidence and intuition. Later I had the good fortune to work with her again after graduating and joining the group as a junior physicist. What I appreciated most about Cynthia was her practical approach to clinical problems. She was very dedicated to her craft and fastidious about the details in everything she did. It was clear to me as an intern that she truly cared about her role in the department. To her, medical physics was more than a job.”

-Tyler Blackwell

Larry Reinstein. Larry was chief physicist and mentor at my first job out of grad school. He was very good at shaping our radiation oncology center into a place where every process was focused on effectiveness and safety. The culture was one in which mistakes were not personal failings but, rather, opportunities to learn and further improve processes in ways that actually solve root problems. That style of leadership is something worth emulating.”

-Alan Nelson

Shiva Das. I had the privilege of being mentored by Dr. Das when I was a graduate student. He was a brilliant researcher and heavily involved in service to the AAPM. I was constantly amazed that, in addition to his contributions to the field, he was also a very approachable teacher who always made time for his students. His treatment planning course sparked my interest in programming and his commitment to high-quality patient care shaped my clinical practice. I would not be a medical physicist today without Dr. Das’ guidance and support!”

-Jennifer Paisley

Ed Bender was both my undergraduate and graduate advisor, and was really my inspiration for moving into the field of medical physics. He has a strong interest in the product development/research side of the field, and gave me the guidance and resources to expand both my clinical knowledge and technological experience. Whether it was shadowing during SRS treatments, submitting patents for our product designs, or working in the lab together, Ed provided the foundation for my interest and transition into industry to continue developing technologies that would positively impact patient care.”

-Jacob Beres

 

Charles Coffey. I was extremely lucky to be trained in Vanderbilt’s Medical Physics graduate program during Dr. Coffey’s time there. His incredible work ethic—splitting his time between being Chief Physicist, Graduate Program Director, AAPM President and Intramural Softball pitcher—was always a marvel to me. I am one of the many beneficiaries of his great teaching ability and dedication to his students, not only in their training as physicists, but in all aspects of life.”

-Kevin Tierney

Curtis Whiddon was my first boss and was really focused on making sure I learned every aspect of the clinic thoroughly and correctly—and our clinic was busy, with active HDR, LDR, SRS and SBRT programs! He also was willing to give me new projects early on (our first Big Bore acceptance/commissioning and first implementation of TG-142) and believed in me to complete the task properly. Having that level of trust early in my career helped instill confidence and grow my understanding of clinical projects. He was always willing to listen when I had new ideas and never made me feel like I was “newbie” when I started my career. I am grateful for all of the knowledge he passed on to me and for making my first job enjoyable!”

-Christine Gnaster

 

Bob Blackwell, a senior clinical physicist at Mayo Clinic. Very early in my career, I was working one weekend and had trouble getting the machine running. I called Bob, and he walked me through the problem. On Monday, he asked me to stop by his office. He gave me the “your job is a part of your life, not your whole life” talk. It took a while for that talk to sink in completely, to appreciate that he went out of his way to have that talk with me. This was one of numerous life chats I had with Bob, but it stuck with me. And I should mention that he’s quite the clinical physicist.”

-Andrew Jensen 

We all know someone that is an absolute all-star physicist, or one that played a big role in our careers. Who is it that inspires you? Drop a name in the comments or on social (tag us!) and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an electron tree!

Because now is a time to spread the love for physicists, keep it going by checking out Physicist Feud, where our team hams it up with a special radiation oncology version of the famous Family Feud gameshow.

Happy International Day of Medical Physics!

written by Tyler Blackwell

Tyler Blackwell is a board-certified medical physicist with extensive clinical experience in radiation therapy. He is active in several AAPM committees, has served as secretary-treasurer for the Northwest Chapter of AAPM, and is an ABR orals examiner. Tyler dabbles in real estate investing and loves preparing breakfast for his two kiddos.


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23 Comments

  1. Erica

    Shoutout to Julie Lo at the Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care for being a role model through my years of X-Ray & Therapy school!

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  2. Mark

    I’d like to give a shoutout to Todd Pawlicki and his team at UC San Diego Health for redefining the Physicist’s role in the clinic.

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  3. Arjit Baghwala

    Life works in mysterious ways. When and how we connect with people, and the impact they leave on us, always amazes me. A medical physicist whom I really admire and consider as my mentor, is Rex Ayers. I had the opportunity to connect with him during preparation of my Part 3 ABR board exams. His impact on my life was not limited to the preparation but to several facets of life, for which I will forever be grateful to him. I inspire to be a thorough clinical physicist, a great friend and a doting husband/father like him every day. On this international day of medical physicist, I pay my regards and gratitude to Rex.

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  4. George Bourg

    Giving a shoutout to Bailey Pullen for giving me the encouragement to pursue this line of work. I would not be where I am today without him.

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  5. Dan

    I have been lucky to have several outstanding mentors. One who I believe deserves more recognition is Dr. Dennis Cheek. He was recently appointed the Director of Medical Physics at the University of Kentucky. I admire his humility, authenticity, and ability to break things down and identify ways to help you grow in all aspects of life. I only wish I had more time of overlap with him. Thank you Dr. Cheek!

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  6. Stefano Peca

    A physicist who I will always be grateful to is my friend Eduardo Villarreal! A very knowledgeable and well rounded scientist, and an outstanding human being! Eduardo is actually the one who invited me to inquire about the PhD program in Calgary. In my first year when I was overwhelmed with classes, duties, information, QA, Eduardo was always a solid rock to go to for information, and sometimes for consolation! In the subsequent years he always had words of wisdom and words of laughter at any occasion, warranted or not! Gracias Doctor Eduardo!

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    • Lindsay Jones

      A physicist that I look up to is a former co-worker of mine, Jennifer Scharff, MS, DABR. She taught me how to be diligent in my work, but also still have fun and develop good relationships with our therapist colleagues. 💗

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  7. Dana Rosencranz

    My mentor – Bret Heintz!
    Almost 20 y ago, I switched from Industrial Physics to Medical Physics, being one of the last generation that ABR still allowed job cross training . I had several mentors that I owe a lot, not just Medical Physicists but also Therapists and Dosimetrists. However, to Bret Heintz, I owe him my foundation of Medical Physicist that I am today. His Medical Physics knowledge, depth and passion was a great standard for me to look up and always try to achieve! I learnt so much from him not just about Physics, but how to deal with pressure, people, management, equipment and so much more. Thank you SO MUCH Bret for every day we worked together!

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  8. Samuel Rhoades

    Bret Heintz took me under his wing when I was young and made sure that I understood the why and the how & could explain these to both physicists and therapists. Lots of us only can do a part.

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  9. Robin A. Miller

    I echo comments about Charley Coffey, though I trained under Dr Coffey at UK. He has trained a large percentage of practicing physicists over his long career as a mentor and teacher. He had a way of instilling good physics practices both by living them every day in the clinic and making certain that all his students and residents abide by them. I owe much to Charley for the physics practices he instilled in me and the physicist that I am today.

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  10. Irene Boll

    I’d like to give a shoutout to one of my grad school classmates and fellow female physicist Linda Poplawski at WVU! It’s great to keep in the loop about new technology and ask advice on implementing new things or quality improvement.

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  11. Linda Poplawski

    So thankful to have a close friend, Irene Boll, that inspires me! I know she works incredibly hard and is someone I can always go to when I have questions with no judgment. She reminds me why we love this field!

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  12. Bruce Curran

    Ned Sternick hired me for a summer job in June, 1973. I worked with him for over 40 years at Dartmouth, Tufts, Nomos, and Rhode Island. In addition to teaching me medical physics (I graduated with an Engineering and Physics double major – headed for the semiconductor industry) and inspiring me to become active in AAPM and other organizations, we have, most importantly, remained the best of friends for nearly 50 years. I still look to him for advice and he has never failed to help me see a broader and more effective view of the world and our profession.

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  13. Magdalena Bazalova-Carter

    I hate to admit it to him, but Paul Keall has been a role model to me since my postdoc at Stanford. He has great ideas and his career goal is to improve the life of cancer patients is very clear. Paul is extremely supportive of trainees of all levels and a very kind person overall. He treats everyone the same and emphasizes the importance of life outside of work. Even though he lives on the other side of the world, I still go to him for advice and he never turns me down. The only downside to him is that he cannot stack beer cups.

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  14. Dominic DiCostanzo

    It’s too hard to pick just one. I’ve been mentored by so many amazing physicists. Dr. Charles Coffey while I was in graduate school helped me understand the physicist’s role in the clinic. While in residency, Dan Pavord and Dr. George Sherouse helped further my understanding of clinical physics. Now in my first (and only job) Dr. Nilendu Gupta has mentored me in leadership and helped me spread my wings in a large academic medical center. I appreciate them all because they all mentored me in different ways and at different times.

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  15. Somol mariam sunny

    Dr William F. Hanson who worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center , Texas is a rare gem among physicists. With more than 40 years of experience as a Medical physicists , He was a true inspiration to many and still is . One quote that he says still touches my heart : “Build redundant systems and build trust with colleagues above us , below us and on our level “ .
    He loves to teach others and he breaks things so simple and humble that no one ever forget what he taught! He has been teaching Medical physics from 1986 till date to the dosimetry students and everyone appreciates his sincerity and passion towards medical physics !

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  16. Jack Wang

    On this International Day of Medical Physicist, I would like to send my tribute to my mentor Frank Fan, PhD DABR. When I just joined a consulting group in 2013, Frank was my mentor among six free standing cancer centers. Without his stimulating guidance and encouraging teaching, I could not accomplish all the medical physics tasks and clinical service to our cancer patients in North California, Oregon and Hawaii States. Thanks Frank, you rock!

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  17. Samantha Jackman

    John Mullins at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center is a great physicist in so many ways. Dr. Mullins is extremely knowledgeable yet always knows how to explain a concept so anyone would be able to understand it. He has helped implement many new procedures and has been a big part of our success in doing so. Dr. Mullins is truly a department resource, in fact, we always say W.W.J.D (What would John do)?

    Thanks for everything, John!

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  18. Steven Ellefson

    Dr. John Bayouth at University of Wisconsin. As the physics chief, residency director, and AAPM President while he was also my graduate advisor, I knew that I was probably the least important person he talked to on a daily basis. Yet, even when he was having a long and busy day, during our meeting times he would stop everything and focus completely on our discussion. In addition to him being a fantastic physicist, this always impressed me and is a quality I hope to be able to cultivate in myself.

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  19. Kari

    Mike Beach is hands down my favorite physicist! I’m privileged to witness first hand his deep commitment to patient care. He has the heart-of-a-teacher, and I’ve learned so much about physics and life in general from him. And dad jokes. Working with Mike means hearing a lot of dad jokes!

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  20. John Parameritis

    George Zacharopoulos, CEO of Aktina Medical is an amazing person who I truly admire. He is a real “Homo Universalis” as he has excelled for over 50 years in all specialties of medical physics, in engineering as well as in painting. His genius is only paralleled by his kind heart, his generosity and compassion. He has always been a mentor and a role model to me. Thank you for everything!

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  21. Edward Marshall

    Darryl Kaurin has mentored me since I was a wee Physics Assistant at NMPC! He pounded a good foundation of clinical medical physics through my thick skull throughout residency and continues to put up with me on a day to day basis at our clinic in Olympia, WA. He can’t help but do the most thorough job day in and day out. I’m always happy to follow his example!

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  22. Peter Fessenden

    C. J. Karzmark, Chief of Rad Onc Physics at Stanford for decades up to almost 1990, inspired many medical physicists to enter the field during that time, including me. Karz was best known for his pioneering work, along with Varian Associates, in bringing the linear accelerator to fruition in treating cancer patients.

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