|Author: D.L. Cooney|
|Settling Into a Radiation Therapy Career
|Caesar Carter's career options were driven by the vocational areas emphasized at his high school: medicine, law, and engineering. Carter opted to take every math class offered to prepare him for what he thought would be a career in engineering.
Little did he know that career path was soon due for a redirection. While working for a company that bought used radiology equipment from hospitals, Carter regularly spoke to the people who were actually using the equipment and he came to understand more about the radiology profession. With his interest piqued, he began his journey to becoming a radiation therapist.
"When I was in high school, I had no idea this type of career existed," said Carter. "I decided to pursue radiation therapy [over other modalities] because a therapist develops a strong bond with their patient and actually witnesses them get better." Upon further research into the field, Carter discovered that radiation therapy is about treating patients—not simply scanning them and never interacting with them again.
He simultaneously pursued his undergraduate degree from Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, while at the same time attending Montefiore School of Radiation Therapy. In his quest for continuous learning, Carter has made the conscious decision to learn as much as he can about his chosen profession through a variety of work experiences. That drive has taken him to 17 different hospitals over the course of his career. "In 2002, I finally realized that I couldn't find anyone to marry if I kept moving around. During my last "away mission" at a facility in Columbia, South Carolina, I saw an advertisement for Chilton Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. I did a phone interview and they hired me sight unseen." That leap of faith paid off. Carter was married in 2005."
The Cancer Center at Chilton Memorial Hospital, located adjacent to the hospital at the Collins Pavilion, uses the latest technology to diagnose, treat, and provide support to cancer patients. Every phase of cancer care—from registration to lab work to treatment to support—is located under one roof, eliminating the need for travel to a larger cancer facility.
"I run the simulators—the Kermath—which allows us to take a look at the body and map it," Carter said. "Once everything is matched up on the monitor, we take a hard copy and compare it to the plan, then we set up tattoos on the patient."
"We usually start with a CAT Scan of the patient to define the treatment area. Then the physician makes a plan, we put the final set of points on them, and then they're ready for treatment. Once the patient's been simulated, they return the next day and we set up and take X-Rays with the blocking in place."
"During the CAT Scan we construct immobilization devices for the specific areas of the body." Carter explains. "In the case of the legs, that area can move the pelvis, even though you're moving the pelvis down. In the case of a brain treatment, you have to construct the mask for the patient. Depending on the device, it can take about 10-15 minutes to set up the immobilization."
Carter is interested in furthering his radiology therapy career. He's planning to pursue a Master of Science in Medical Physics at Columbia University. This will enable him to do calibration on linear accelerator machines and to finalize treatment plans prescribed by dosemitrists. He hopes this additional education will enable him to commission newly installed machines and oversee quality assurance.
Carter enjoys working with patients, but there are times when it's heart wrenching. "Some people come in and you know they're going to make it—they have a lower stage cancer. But then there are women who come in with Stage 4 breast cancer who have ignored the lump for years. It's already invaded their lungs and their brains, and you‘re treating them just to release some pain.
In recognition of his dedication, Carter won Chilton Memorial's coveted Service Star of the Month in December 2004. Service Excellence is one of the values to which Chilton measures itself, and one employee each month is recognized for exemplifying this quality. According to the hospital's Web site, "We provide courteous, compassionate, and efficient service to our community, and we make our services and facilities available to all. We are committed to building upon our history of excellence by striving to understand and meet the ever-changing needs of our community."
Diana Luciani, RN, the nurse manager who nominated Carter for the Service Star Award, said, "Patients often recognize the important human element that Caesar brings to their care as they undergo radiation therapy at the hospital's Cancer Center at the Collins Pavilion. They frequently mention his calming sense of humor and ease in caring for them during very difficult circumstances. His patients often mention him by name in the thank you letters they send to the hospital."
Chilton Memorial Hospital, a fully accredited, 256-bed, acute-care, community hospital, offers services ranging from its family-centered obstetrics program featuring home-like labor, delivery and recovery rooms, to New Vitality, its award-winning health and wellness program for those 50 and older. A full range of sophisticated diagnostic radiology testing is also offered. Additional services include the Chilton Cancer Center, the Comprehensive Breast Center, a Cardiac Catheterization/Angiography Suite, a state-of-the-art Emergency Department; centers for pain management, sleeping disorders, and wound healing; and a weight-loss surgery program. Chilton was the first New Jersey hospital to be awarded a perfect score by the Joint Commission Accreditation of Health Organizations, which evaluates healthcare institutions worldwide. For more information about Chilton's facilities and services, please visit www.chiltonmemorial.org.
According to the American Cancer society, an estimated 1.37 million people are diagnosed with cancer in 2005, and approximately half of those patients will receive radiation therapy. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) supported the implementation of a baccalaureate degree standard for entry-level radiation therapists. This decision provides a strong academic foundation to meet the growing need of cancer patients in an increasingly complex career.
Carter focuses on his patients, and expects his colleagues to do the same. Dealing with the red tape in any organization is a challenge, but it's particularly frustrating when the team is working with cancer patients. Carter feels that the greatest concern within his field today is the loss of staff and the negative impact it has on patient care. Despite this, he believes one aspect of the role has remained constant over the years. "We have always been the first and last line of defense when it comes to the accurate treatment of the patient," Carter said.
Carter holds a Bachelor of Science in Radiological Health Sciences from Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York. He received his certificate in Radiation Therapy from Montefiore School of Radiation Therapy in the Bronx.
D.L. Cooney is on the editorial staff of NEWS-Line for Radiology Professionals.