There are many people involved in making sure you receive the best care possible at Washington University School of Medicine.
Your physician in radiation oncology is called a radiation oncologist. He or she is a specialist in treating cancer with radiation and is board certified by the American Board of Radiology. The radiation oncologist is responsible for planning your care, prescribing and supervising your treatment. You will see your radiation oncologist on your first visit to the Radiation Oncology Department and during the planning stages of your treatment. Once your daily treatments begin, you will be scheduled to see your radiation oncologist at least once a week to monitor your progress, including (if possible) response to the tumor and treatment side effects.
Working along with the radiation oncologist is a resident physician. He or she has completed four years of medical school, one year of internship and is specializing in the field of radiation oncology. You will meet your resident physician on your first visit as well as see him or her during weekly visits. The residents rotate among the radiation oncologists — approximately every three months — as part of their training.
Radiation therapists deliver your daily treatment, which is prescribed by the radiation oncologist. They are health care professionals who are certified in radiation therapy by the American Registry of Radiologic Technology. The educational background of most therapists is in diagnostic radiography, with additional education and training in radiation therapy. Their education and training prepares them to provide quality treatment and care to their patients. Radiation therapists are trained in operating the linear accelerators that deliver radiation therapy and assist in scheduling your treatment appointments. If you have any questions regarding your treatment or need a different appointment time, the therapists will assist you. The therapists rotate between the treatment units throughout the year. We try to ensure that one or two therapists follow you through your treatment.
Working along with the radiation therapists are students training to become registered radiation therapists. Radiation therapists also perform the patient’s simulation, and some therapists specialize in assisting the radiation oncologist and medical physicist in providing brachytherapy treatments.
Do not hesitate to notify your radiation therapist if you have any questions or concerns throughout your treatment. They will refer you to the appropriate team member.
Medical physicists are specialists in the measurement and delivery of radiation. They are board certified by the American Board of Radiology or American Board of Medical Physics. They are responsible for the overall safety and accuracy of the treatment machines as well as for the treatment-planning computers used to determine the beam arrangements for your treatment. The medical physicists may be asked to assist the radiation oncologist with additional calculations, measurements or design of special treatment aids. The medical physicist also checks your initial treatment plan and treatment machine monitor unit calculations. This person provides a weekly continuing quality assurance check while you are being treated to make sure treatment is delivered accurately. Medical physicists work closely with the medical physics residents, and are involved in teaching students and residents. You may not have much direct interaction with medical physicists and medical dosimetrists, but they are integral members of the Radiation Oncology Department and play a key role in the planning and delivery of your radiation treatments.
Medical dosimetrists are responsible for assisting the radiation oncologist in planning your treatment through the use of computers, computed tomography (CT) scans, special X-ray films and measurements of your treatment area. These health care professionals are certified by the Medical Dosimetry Certification Board. The medical dosimetrist uses guidelines given by the radiation oncologist for the dose to be delivered. The goal of the dosimetrist’s work is to design a combination of fields that adequately treats the area of disease while avoiding areas of sensitive normal tissue. Additional responsibilities include calculating radiation dose delivered to the tumor and normal structures, assisting the medical physicist in quality assurance, performing isodose planning for brachytherapy treatments, and teaching students and residents.
Your oncology nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed specific, advanced nursing education and training in the diagnosis and management of cancer. They use their expert nursing knowledge to provide you high quality care. Nurse practitioners are trained to treat both acute and chronic conditions through comprehensive history taking, physical exams, prescribing medications and ordering tests and therapies for patients within their scope of practice. Due to their high level of education and training, nurse practitioners see patients independently, but a physician is always available for collaboration.
Radiation oncology nurses are registered nurses or licensed practical nurses who work closely with the radiation oncologist and other staff to coordinate your care. You will have a primary nurse working with you during all phases of your treatment. Your primary nurse will provide you with information concerning your diagnosis, treatment, and self-care measures to manage potential side effects of treatment. In addition, your nurse will be available for any questions or concerns you may have regarding your treatment and its side effects both during and after completion of your treatment. If necessary, your nurse may refer you to the social worker, dietitian or a community agency.
Patient care technicians are specially trained to assist the nurse and radiation oncologist with the care of patients both initially and ongoing. They are able, among other things, to change dressings, make observations about the patient and obtain vital signs. They also assist with scheduling of tests, treatments, appointments and are a liaison if the nurse is unable to take a question or call.
Clinical office assistants greet you daily, and register appropriate information about you into our computer system on your first visit. They assist in scheduling follow up appointments with your radiation oncologist, they also are responsible for answering and managing telephone calls.
Dietitians on staff at the Department of Radiation Oncology are registered members of the American Dietetic Association and licensed in the state of Missouri. They specialize in the nutritional therapy for patients diagnosed with cancer. A registered dietitian can assist you with general nutrition counseling, assessment of individual nutritional needs, suggestions for coping with side effects of cancer treatment, use of nutritional supplements, and healthy weight management.
If you would like to meet with a dietitian, please notify your physician, nurse, or therapist, or call (314) 747-7236.
The social worker can help you solve practical problems such as lodging or transportation, or link you with community services such as the American Cancer Society or the Peregrine Society. During periods of illness, patients and their families have special concerns. Living with cancer is often a reason for feeling anxious or depressed. Sometimes, talking about these feelings can help you find new ways to cope. The social worker may provide assistance in finding financial coverage for your care, and answering basic questions about insurance coverage.
Social workers address problems that delay or interfere with obtaining radiation oncology treatments:
The Radiation Oncology Department offers the services of a social worker to provide individual, marital or family counseling when cancer causes depression, anxiety or stress. Social Work is an integral part of the services provided by your health care team and can be a vital link to:
- In-home community services
- Nursing home placement
- Rehabilitation placement
- Hospice care
Social work facilitate groups that offer:
- Education and information
- Support from others who know and understand
- Ways to cope effectively with your illness
Clinical social workers hold a Master’s degree in Social Work and are trained to assist you and your family in coping with the stress related to your illness. Your physician, nurse or radiation therapist may refer you to the social worker or you may contact the social worker directly. There is no charge for social work services. Confidentiality is always respected within the treatment team.
To speak with a social worker, call (314) 454-7632.