Aps Careers | Physicist Profile

Albin Gonzalez

Medical Physicist

Why physics?

Albin thinks of himself as a "problem solver." Working in physics allows Albin to solve challenges that help save cancer patients' lives.

Albin works for Mercy Cancer Center in Elyria, Ohio, where he oversees all aspects of radiation safety and treatment for cancer patients. He uses his physics skills everyday to make a real difference in the lives of cancer patients.

Using physics

One of the problems Albin solves nearly every day is how to position patients during radiation treatments for the most efficient and least painful access. He also routinely solves difficulties with the technology itself. Albin checks treatment plans and monitors the machines to make sure they're working properly and that their output is within an acceptable range. Together with doctors, dosimetrists, radiation therapists, and nurses, Albin treats around 40 patients per day with extremely high doses of radiation. (Dosimetrists are responsible for calculating the dose of radiation that will best destroy a tumor without damaging normal tissues. They help develop treatment plans along with doctors and medical physicists for individual patients.)

Albin and his colleagues are also involved in clinical trials for different types of cancer to increase general knowledge on how new treatments might improve survival.

Keeping up with technology

Physics allows Albin to work in a fast-paced environment that's constantly adapting to the latest technology.

Right now, his department is lucky enough to use "a fantastic treatment planning system that is the latest in the market," he says. It makes treatment plans much more efficient, which is good news for cancer patients!

Mercy Cancer Center is also working on introducing new software that will make paper charts a thing of the past, he says. In this latest transition, every record will be electronic which should decrease expenses and improve workload.

The cancer center is in the planning stages of purchasing a new linear accelerator as well, a machine that produces radiation in the form of high-energy X-rays that can be used in the treatment of cancer patients. "It will be really exciting when the time comes that we could offer things like 4-D CTs, respiratory gating, and stereotactic body treatments," Albin says, all of which are methods that help treat tumors that move within the body due to breathing and other factors. Notes: (i) A four-dimensional CT scan is taken over a longer period of time and shows how organs and tissues move when a patient breathes. This can become crucial when trying to determine how much radiation a tumor receives if it moves during radiation therapy due to breathing. The fourth dimension refers to time. (ii) Respiratory gating refers to a system that can track a patient’s normal respiratory cycle and deliver radiation only when the tumor is in the treatment field. (iii) Stereotactic body treatments are done by radiation oncologists who surgically insert small gold coils into the tumor so that its location and movement can be tracked precisely. Once an accurate map of the patient’s anatomy and organ motion is developed, the tumor can be targeted with high doses of radiation in a way that doesn’t damage healthy surrounding tissue.

Advice for students

Lots of possibilities in physics

Albin stresses the fact that you don’t have to become a professor or researcher if you go into physics. "There are some very interesting jobs out there," he says. "The sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do: you could be at a university or in a national laboratory dealing with huge projects, working in industry, power plants, hospitals, financial institutions, or even setting up your own business."

Find out what moves you

The best advice Albin has for students is simple: don’t waste time! “Find out what moves you, what is exciting to you, what will make you happy every day that you go to work. And then set your goals, one little step at a time. Don't let anybody or anything tell you that you cannot do it,” he says.

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