From physics to patient care
By Taylor Utzig
When alumna Ahpa Plypoo, MS, first stepped onto the Loyola University Chicago campus as a freshman, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. What she didn’t know yet was how her aptitude for physics would lead her to a career in health care she never knew existed.
“It was the end of my junior year and we were all thinking about the MCATs or other post-baccalaureate paths and someone mentioned Medical Physics,” said Plypoo, now a senior medical physicist at Ascension Health Care in Appleton, Wisconsin.
At the time, Loyola did not offer a pathway to pursue a graduate degree in Medical Physics. Beginning Fall 2021, it will.
“I am very proud of Loyola to be moving forward with a Master of Science in Medical Physics program and believe a lot of students will also be excited this is happening,” Plypoo said. “If Loyola offered the degree when I was looking, I would have absolutely applied.”
Unlike traditional career paths in physics, which focus more on research, a master’s in Medical Physics prepares graduates to work alongside physicians in clinics and hospitals. One of the most common places to find a medical physicist is in the radiation oncology department, where they use their understanding of imaging, radiation therapy, and technology to help develop treatments for patients battling cancer.
“I chose this field because I am using my knowledge and training to help patients in their most desperate time,” said John Roeske, PhD.
Roeske is the director of the new Medical Physics program and believes offering the new degree creates a natural pathway for Loyola students to move from their undergraduate studies into a medical physics residency at Loyola Medicine.
“We have a great facility here in terms of the clinical offerings, including the latest technology in radiation oncology,” said Roeske. “Not only would students have great faculty mentors, but they would also be trained on the newest equipment.”
The opportunity has already sparked interest in Loyola’s undergraduate physics department. Since learning about the idea, Department Chair Constantin Rasinariu has been coordinating with Roeske to foster a collaborative partnership and promote the graduate program to students interested in the medical field.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Loyola students in the physics department and students in the area to access a promising career,” said Rasinariu. “Applying physics to care for a person is a prime example of Loyola’s mission to care for the whole person or cura personalis.”
While Roeske says the program will welcome just a few students in its first cohort, it is his goal that the program will grow in the years to come and become a shining example of the opportunities open to aspiring physicists with a passion for helping people.