Medical Physicists: Calculating Cancer Care

Medical Physicists?

It’s a career that isn’t widely known, but the professionals are key to the cancer care team. Medical physics is an applied branch of physics concerned with the application of the concepts and methods of physics to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. At the Cancer Center, much of our medical physicists’ work revolves around radiation technology and individualized radiation treatments. In addition, medical physicists conduct research to improve treatment outcomes for cancer patients and to educate the next generation of physicists.

Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center established a medical physics residency training consortium in 2009. The consortium received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs in 2012, and currently includes training sites at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in Shreveport, LA, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS. The consortium program allows for the significant expansion of residency training opportunities and created one of the largest medical physics residency training program in the United States.

Why residents choose Mary Bird

Addie Barron completed her undergraduate degree in bio-physics from Centenary College and her Master’s degree in medical physics from LSU. When studying at LSU, she was given the opportunity to visit and complete a clinical rotation at Mary Bird Perkins. After applying and interviewing, Addie entered into the Cancer Center’s physics residency program in 2018.

“Most programs have one or two residents and one practicing physicist. Mary Bird has a total of eight residents at the different locations, and every participant is able to work with and learn from both fellow residents and staff physicists at these facilities.”

“The Cancer Center’s program is vastly different than the other programs I interviewed with,” said Addie. “Most programs have one or two residents and one practicing physicist. Mary Bird has a total of eight residents at the different locations, and every participant is able to work with and learn from both fellow residents and staff physicists at these facilities. Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge has 11 practicing physicists who offer one-on-one training to the residents. Also, because Mary Bird Perkins has so many satellite locations, I have the opportunity to experience the clinical environments of both larger medical centers and small clinics.”

Residents at Mary Bird Perkins are also able to study under some of the country’s leading minds in medical physics, including Jonas Fontenot, Ph.D., the program director of the residency consortium. Dr. Fontenot has published more than 60 research articles and abstracts, given more than 24 oral presentations, received several research grants from industry and federal sponsors and serves on a variety of academic and professional boards.

Accolades and accreditations

In 2012, the program was accredited by the Commission of Accredited Residency Programs in Medical Physics (CAMPEP), the regulating organization that allows residents to sit for the examinations that will complete their training.

These examinations judge residents’ knowledge and understanding of complex theories and practices, and help them begin preparing months in advance for the final oral examination with expert physicists.

An expert’s testimony

“Our residency program not only prepares residents for their certification exams but also tries to provide them with as much hands-on, clinical experience as possible,” says Koren Smith, M.S., chief quality officer and medical physicist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. “Residents work side-by-side with clinical physicists to prepare treatments and solve problems for patients in real-world scenarios.”

Improving the future of cancer care

To date, 15 residents have completed the program with a nearly one-hundred-percent placement rate after graduation. Past residents are now working in hospitals around the country, using their knowledge learned through the program to improve cancer care by driving clinic-wide improvements in quality, safety of radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging procedures.


Click here to learn more about the physics residency program at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and how it’s making a difference in the future of cancer care.

  • Medical physics combines the application of physics concepts with the principles of medicine to individualize cancer patients’ radiation treatments, enhance treatment outcomes, and train the next generation of practitioners.
  • Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center has worked with other universities and cancer centers for ten years to create the largest medical physics residency program in the country.
  • Medical Physicist and Chief Quality Officer Koren Smith discusses how the program trains residents for their examinations and real-life scenarios that they will encounter as physicists.