UF Health Proton Therapy Institute Hosts Local STEM High School Students

stem high school students
Hardev S. Grewal, PhD, assistant professor and medical physicist (center) encourages local high school students to consider careers in radiation oncology.

More than 20 STEM high school students, teachers and visitors recently attended a tour at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute to learn about the breadth of medical career opportunities. The Andrew Jackson High School and First Coast High School students included most grade levels, as well as several from a physics class, some from the medical magnet choice program, and others were early college program freshmen. The group toured the facility, met staff and saw the technology used to treat cancer.

Hardev S. Grewal, PhD, medical physicist at the Institute and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Florida, coordinated the visit. He said students in high school considering a career in STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, may not be aware of careers in radiation oncology. “We wanted to expand their mindset about careers in STEM. Each department did a demonstration of the technology and talked about what they need to study in college to go into the field,” said Dr. Grewal. The visit included demonstrations by a radiation therapist, an engineer, a medical physicist and a medical dosimetrist.

“We are always most grateful for the experience and value the time the staff freely give up their Saturday mornings for us,” said First Coast High School teacher Richard Black.

Many of the students who attended the educational tour on a Saturday morning in February were familiar with the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Some have parents that work at the facility and one student had a grandparent that was treated there for a brain tumor. The physics class students commented they were grateful for the opportunity to learn how what they’re learning in the classroom applies to the real world.

While some students may have been familiar with the Institute, many were exposed to occupations they were less familiar with. For the first time, radiation therapists were a part of the tour. The radiation therapists introduced the radiation oncology career path to the students.

“Any time when students are exposed to something new, it is a learning experience for them,” said Black. “All know about nurses and doctors to some degree, but few realize or are aware that there are many varied occupations in the medical field,” he continued.

Andrew Jackson High School teacher and Duval County Teacher of the Year Julie Mayeshiba shared that the tour also broadened her horizons and helped educate her on the current state of medical physics so she can more intentionally bring those connections and applications into the classroom.

One such topic of interest to many visitors was dosimetry, the measurement of radiation exposure from X-rays, gamma ray, or other types of radiation used in the treatment or detection of diseases, including cancer.

“Several of my students specifically mentioned that dosimetry was something they were interested in learning more about. They did not realize that they could work with computers in a medical facility,” said Mayeshiba.

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute welcomes students throughout the year. The staff are always happy to share their experiences and knowledge with young members of the community.


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