Manhattan Receives Grant for Radiation Therapy Technology Program

by, Nicole Fitzsimmons and Colleen E. McNamara, News Editor and Asst. Sports Editor

A $145,438 grant from the Gladys Brooks Foundation has been awarded to Manhattan College’s Radiation Therapy Technology program. The generous grant allows MC to upgrade its Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Treatment room system and purchase the advancement of a proton therapy extension for students to utilize during their learning.

At Manhattan, students study radiation detection and protection, radiation physics, radiation planning, and finally, patient care and nursing. The curriculum also familiarizes students with health care ethics and systems. Manhattan College’s future oncologists then move to clinical experience at any one of the eleven nearby hospitals or medical centers.

The first floor of the O’Malley Library has been home to the radiation therapy lab for a number of years. The grant will allow the system to be completely upgraded and overhauled with new software, new hardware, and a new proton therapy extension. This extension is a specialized type of radiation that can only be found in a few sites throughout the whole country.

Kayla Valentino, program director of the Radiation Therapy Technology program, and Sara Silverstein, clinical coordinator for Radiation Therapy, reached out to Kristin Farrell, director of institutional giving and special programs, to request this grant. Together, they helped create a proposal for the ability to advance the program, which turned out to be successful.

This new software gives students a look inside the body of a patient that usually could not be seen as vividly. This view can locate tumors, along with surrounding healthy tissue. Students will now be able to practice different techniques, procedures, and set-ups while working with a variety of machines and treatment types.

“It’s going to expand their knowledge of just basic radiation therapy treatment procedures and then, students are also going to now have access to proton therapy treatments,” said Valentino. “That’s something that we’re one of only a few in the country to have that extension and the ability to teach that in the classroom. So, we’re really excited about that.”

Image of Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Treatment (VERT) which students will now have access during their courses.

All students that major in radiation therapy technology will have access to the new system during their courses and each course will actively showcase and utilize these advancements in some way. This implements a real-life form of practice for students throughout the program.

Karen Nicholson, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Health, believes that this new technology will advance the quality of education for students in the program. Students will have rare opportunities for high-tech innovations that can enhance their abilities.

“It is an opportunity to demonstrate the academic content of their coursework on campus. It also allows them to be better prepared for learning experiences in their clinical settings” Nicholson said. “For example, in the virtual classroom students can learn to position the patient in order to perform the procedure.  In a hospital setting a real patient would be laying there waiting on their procedure while the student is positioning them.”

Beatrice Fieramosca, who graduated Manhattan College last spring in radiation therapy technology, is a per diem at Monmouth Medical Center, and just finished her locum contract in California. Fieramosca’s Mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer when Fieramosca was 16 years old, which introduced Fieramosca to the field in hopes of becoming a patient advocate.

Fieramosca interned for Columbia and Montefiore as a student at Manhattan College. In addition to internships, during Fieramosca’s senior year at Manhattan College, she worked alongside Khayla Valentino and Sara Silverstein. Upon getting their research published, they announced the grant to Fieramosca.

“The fact that students have access to a computer, simulating the radiation experience with a programmed patient gives us an edge over other programs that lack that technology, we get to see real cancers, real tumor volumes, and real treatment fields, which are all important,” Fieramosca said. “Now, rather than emphasizing internships, students are able to pull up a patient on the screen and simulate the treatment all included in class rather than off-campus in a hospital”

With the addition of the proton extension, there is a major advancement from photons, accelerated electrons. To accelerate an electron requires so much space, time, and room.

“I think protons are the future of radiation therapy, it’s just a matter of finding the space. Breathing techniques are also important, we’ve been focusing on breathing so that when a patient inhales, the damaged tissue is separated enough from the healthy tissue to remove it” Fieramosca said.

The ability to advance such an important program allows Manhattan College to stand out amongst other institutions in providing quality education. Students are getting first-hand experience in the field which makes them all that more prepared to cure patients Fieramosca hopes.

This advancement also allows Manhattan to provide continuing education services to currently registered therapists who must complete their lifelong learning.

“Our students, as a result of the new technology, are ready to be a functioning team member when they enter their clinical experiences. As you can see, this technology improves their knowledge of content and their ability to benefit fully from their clinical experiences” Nicholson said.