Going Behind The Scenes at The Health Science Center
Kristen Weismantel spends most of her day at the Environmental Health and Safety Office. As a Master in Science in Medical Health Physics student, Weismantel works to make sure that everything is up to code and that radiation safety procedures are being met.
“Before coming here as an intern, I had no idea what radiation safety meant and certainly had no idea what it meant for a health science center,” she said. “We survey areas around the health science center for contamination and ensure that any research with isotopes have their waste disposed of properly.”
One of the projects that Weismantel has worked on is setting up the room and monitoring patients taking the Iodine 131 pill for a thyroid ablation.
“We have to cover a room in plastic and paper and oversee the patient by checking readings on a radiation detector because they are ingesting radioactive material — -it’s a low dosage but we still have to make sure the patient is safe to be released,” she said.
Along with her colleagues at the Environmental Health and Safety office, Weismantel helps the patient understand what’s happening.
“A lot of people are afraid of what’s happening. Even though they’ve decided to take the pill, we still prepare them to understand what they need to do to leave. We facilitate the procedures to make sure that anything they’ve touched is wrapped up or disposed of properly,” she said. “We basically make sure that the procedure is safe from start to finish.”
Weismantel didn’t always know that this was a career option for her. It happened all by chance.
“I was in high school when a group of nuclear engineering students from Texas A&M University came to our physics class. I decided immediately that I wanted to do that. I switched from architecture…I don’t know what switched that day…it seems a bit drastic to change everything based on one encounter but it seemed challenging and I was into that.”
As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University, she jumped into classes in nuclear engineering before realizing that she was interested in radiological health. Her professor recommended doing an internship at UT Health San Antonio’s Environmental Health and Safety office which she did.
“I like this line of work because I get to work with researchers and hospital staff. It’s like watching a play where you see who’s manning the lights. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that there are no safety violations or radiation exposure to the public so the research, diagnostics and therapy involving radiation can keep going.”
In addition to calibrating radiation detectors and helping with lab inspections, Weismantel responds to any accidents involving radiation.
“I enjoy it, I have a logical mind. If there was a spill, we have to react quickly and make sure it’s safe,” she said. “I’m happy going in to work every day.”
Weismantel is also preparing to do research on how to improve dose measurements for fluoroscopically guided interventions.
“To keep procedures minimally invasive, the physician has to take a lot of x rays to see where they are placing a catheter, depending on the procedure. Right now, the physician has the ability to see the peak skin dose up to 35 percent…it’s usually not an issue but with some of the higher dose cases we do here at the Health Science Center, the 35 percent range could make a difference in how the patient is treated post procedure.”
In order to help measure the amount of dose, Weismantel would like to test procedures using radiochromic film.
“The idea is that the optical density of the film will change according to the total dose during the procedure, so this, in addition to the machine’s reading, will hopefully give physicians a better idea of the real dose.”
After getting her degree, Weismantel plans to become a certified health physicist.
“My fate was decided by people visiting my high school so maybe I will make a difference someday. I saw the same person walking around A & M one day and I told him what a difference he made in my life. I think science education and communication is very important.”
This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.