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Published in CenterView on January 27, 2014
Neil Duggar, left, medical physicist, Jason Stanford, center, program trainee, and Alex Nguyen, a recent graduate, use an anthropomorphic phantom to verify delivery of a complex patient treatment.
Neil Duggar, left, medical physicist, Jason Stanford, center, program trainee, and Alex Nguyen, a recent graduate, use an anthropomorphic phantom to verify delivery of a complex patient treatment.

With ‘hub and spokes’ consortium, UMMC trains medical physicist residents

By Jack Mazurak

When Alex Nguyen shook hands, gave a brief talk and received his framed certificate for the Medical Physics Residency Training Program in mid-January, he became the second graduate of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s young program.
He also helped propel a training model that’s gaining national attention.

Medical physicists consult, calculate and help execute treatments for cancer patients needing radiation therapy.

The Department of Radiation Oncology in 2011 affiliated with the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge, La., agreeing to train medical physics residents.

Nguyen has the distinction of being UMMC’s second trainee to graduate, following just weeks behind Neil Duggar, who finished in November.

By affiliating with the residency program at Mary Bird Perkins, UMMC avoided a years-long process of founding its own program and gaining accreditation, said Dr. Claus Yang, associate professor of radiation oncology and chief physicist at UMMC.

“We wanted to take a shortcut to getting our residency program accredited,” Yang said. “Mary Bird Perkins is a bigger group with a residency program already established. They were actively seeking a partner and we were actively seeking a program to become a part of.”

Dr. John Gibbons, chief of clinical physics at Mary Bird Perkins and residency program director, explained the center’s multiple affiliations with residency training sites as a “hub-and-spokes” consortium.

Mary Bird Perkins, the hub, established its Radiation Oncology Physics Residency Program in 2009 in response to the national requirement three years before that medical physicists complete a clinical residency before obtaining board certification.

In its residency program, Mary Bird Perkins trains master’s and doctoral graduates from Louisiana State University’s Medical Physics Graduate Program. By 2011, it had added three “spoke” institutions.

“With the distance being only two and a half hours away, UMMC is a good choice,” Gibbons said. “All of our affiliates are within four hours’ drive of Baton Rouge.”

In addition to UMMC, the other affiliates are the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in Shreveport, La., and OncoLogics, a private-practice group based in Lafayette, La. Each affiliate accepts one resident a year; Mary Bird Perkins takes three.

Under the agreement with its affiliates, Mary Bird Perkins provides the administrative overhead, including the assignment of residents. In turn, the spoke institutions, including UMMC, give LSU students preference for residency openings.

During their two years of clinical training, residents circulate among the locations to experience a wide range of techniques, equipment and professors.

“For instance, UMMC can use radioactive eye plaques to treat ocular melanoma, a procedure our other affiliates don’t offer,” Gibbons said. “At Mary Bird Perkins, we offer total-skin electron irradiation for mycosis foingoides, so residents come there to train in that. Willis Knighton is building a proton facility. Because of the cost involved, it’s relatively rare.

“Through this residency program, we’ll be able to offer that experience as well.”

At UMMC, the trainees also interact with M.D. residents, giving them academic medical center experience.

“This model has raised the reputation of the whole LSU physics program because students who know they want to go into medical physics know they better go to LSU,” he said.

With 200-250 medical physics graduates a year competing for a total of 80 residency slots in the U.S., Gibbons said the nation needs more programs like this.

“Nationally, this hub-and-spoke model can help supply the residency slots needed,” he said.

Gibbons, Yang and other program directors wrote a paper detailing the consortium model. The Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics accepted the manuscript in December for publication this year, assuring widespread exposure.

“Our paper explains the model, its benefits and the history behind it,” Yang said.

Duggar took an instructor position with the UMMC Department of Radiation Oncology and the Cancer Institute. Nguyen graduated on Jan. 13. He and his family celebrated with a catered lunch in the radiation oncology conference room along with a dozen faculty and staff members.

“Though some other residency programs I applied to already had a national reputation, I think this was the right place for me,” Nguyen said. “You don’t get lost in it and you have direct access to all the professors and people involved. Plus you get training on cutting-edge technology.”

Of all the residency graduates to come through the consortium, Nguyen is the program’s seventh. He accepted a job with a private clinical group in Arizona: Ironwood Cancer and Research Centers.

Jason Stanford, a resident from Jamaica who earned his master’s at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, is next in line at UMMC. He started his medical physics residency last July.

UMMC’s fourth resident, Bart Morris, is completing his master of science at LSU and is scheduled to begin training this July.