July 2, 1998

Contact: Jamie Lawson Reeves, (615) 322-NEWS (6397)



Vanderbilt University offering new master's of science in medical physics


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As physicists strive to understand the early universe and heavenly bodies, they develop instruments that have proven useful in medical applications for the human body. A new program at Vanderbilt University, master's of science in medical physics, trains students in the medical applications of these instruments.

The new degree program, which begins in fall 1999, will complement the existing related degree programs of master in physics with a thesis in biophysics and master in biomedical engineering. Medical physics is a branch of physics devoted to the application of concepts and methods in physics to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

The program at Vanderbilt emphasizes the branch of medical physics commonly referred to as medical radiological physics. Students receiving the masters of science in medical physics at Vanderbilt will deal with the application of physics to medical problems, such as maintaining and calibrating instrumentation and calculating dosages for radiation treatments.

This interdisciplinary degree combines faculty resources and courses offered in the College of Arts and Science, the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering. The program is administered through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

"We basically spotted an opportunity to begin this program," said David J. Ernst, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "We already had the faculty in the Medical Center and at the University, as well as the laboratories."

Vanderbilt's program will be unique in that it will be housed in an academic physics department, with many of its faculty in the departments of biomedical engineering and radiology and radiological sciences who have direct access and clinical responsibilities in radiological physics in the Medical Center.

Although three students are currently enrolled in the program, Ernst said it will not officially begin until fall 1999, giving the University one academic year to recruit a new class.

The program is designed to meet accreditation requirements set by the American Board of Radiology and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine.

Vanderbilt has a strong heritage in radiation physics and graduate education in medicine and physics. From the 1950s to the early 1970s Vanderbilt trained the majority of students in the Atomic Energy Commission's training program in health physics, which was jointly managed by Vanderbilt's Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Nuclear Medicine Division of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences.

Currently nine university programs in medical physics have been accredited by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. They are at the University of California-Los Angeles, McGill University, University of Colorado, Wayne State University, University of Oklahoma, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Texas at Houston, University of Wisconsin and Rush University.

The program offers students didactic, laboratory and clinical experience opportunities in both therapy and diagnostic medical physics, providing backgrounds for either a therapy and/or diagnostic medical physics career.

In addition to Ernst, Vanderbilt faculty on the committee that developed the master's degree program in medical physics are Charles William Coffey II, associate professor of radiology and radiological sciences and associate professor of physics; Robert L. Galloway Jr., associate professor of biomedical engineering; Cynthia B. Paschal, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and assistant professor of radiology and radiological sciences; Ronald Price, professor of radiology and radiological sciences and director of the Division of Radiological Sciences, professor of physics and Kennedy Center investigator; Bradley J. Roth, Robert T. Lagemann Assistant Professor of Living State Physics; and John P. Wikswo Jr., A.B. Learned Professor of Living State Physics.



Vanderbilt University is a private research university of approximately 5,900 undergraduates and 4,300 graduate and professional students. Founded in 1873, the University comprises 10 schools, a public policy institute, a distinguished medical center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center. Vanderbilt offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, education and human development, engineering and music, and a full range of graduate and professional degrees.

For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the News and Public Affairs home page on the Internet at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News.

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Document updated June 1, 1998.