Student Spotlight – Nathalie Correa

Nathalie Correa’s Future in Medical Physics Shines Bright

Nathalie Correa, Student

Nathalie Correa, a PhD student in Medical Physics, was recently awarded Third Place in the Student Competition by the Florida Chapter of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (FLAAPM) at the Spring 2021 meeting. Nathalie’s oral presentation was titled “Half-Value Layer at Different Positions in Wide-Beam CT Scanners”. In this student spotlight, Nathalie shares her journey and future goals in Medical Physics.

Why did you choose to go to Graduate School at the University of Florida?

I completed my bachelor’s degree at UF and got involved in the Diagnostic Imaging research lab as a junior. When I was first introduced to the research being done by graduate students, I became very interested and wanted to be more involved. I got the chance to shadow the testing of different modalities and learn more about diagnostic imaging and what medical physicists do. The faculty was very welcoming from the beginning and encouraged me and other students to become more involved and learn more about medical physics. I wanted to be a part of the team at UF and I am grateful to be here for graduate school and get the chance to work with amazing students and faculty – I believe that is not something you come across often and I am lucky to be here!

What was your first exposure to Medical Physics and why did you select it as your course of study?

As a freshman in college, starting as a pre-med student, I remember wishing that there was something with more math and physics involved, but in the medical field. That’s when I came across an article about medical physics. I had no idea it even existed! From there, I did more research on what I needed to do to become a medical physicist and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Why did you select Diagnostic Medical Physics over Therapy Medical Physics as your track?

During my undergraduate studies (as a junior), I started shadowing graduate students in the Diagnostic Imaging research lab. The research being done by students was something that caught my attention and lead me to pursue the diagnostic track.

Describe your current research.

My current research involves completing a dosimetric analysis to compare Dual-Energy CT (DECT) to Single Energy CT (SECT). I take into account several measurements that have to do with the characterization of an x-ray beam and how it has an impact in protocol optimization, image quality, radiation dose, Monte Carlo simulations, and much more. I also intend to clear some of the misconceptions many people may have in regards to radiation dose (pertaining to DECT and SECT).

What has been your most rewarding experience in the program?

My most rewarding experience is getting to work with such an amazing team! Everyone is working on something different and innovative – I have learned so much from my peers. The exchange of ideas and learning about the different ways that things can be done is very valuable. This teamwork has taught me much more than just taking a class.

What has been your most challenging experience in the program?

My most challenging experience has been the uncertainty of figuring out how things work when it comes to research. I’ve learned that doing more research and asking questions (to myself and my peers), helps to overcome this uncertainty. These experiences have facilitated my ability to learn how to deal with different scenarios when a road block is presented.

What advice would you give to an incoming graduate student in Medical Physics?

I recommend getting an early start in a research lab – either diagnostic or therapy (whichever interests you more). Ask questions about everything – research, testing, and the different responsibilities of a medical physicist. That way, you are more informed and can make a better decision on what you want to do.

What do you do when you’re not completing research?

Whenever I have free time, I like to visit my family back home. I also enjoy working out; doing yoga and pilates; going on runs; hanging out with friends; watching movies; or going outside to read a good book. Traveling (whenever I can) is also an important aspect of my life as I enjoy exploring new places, food, and culture. I occasionally go dancing with friends (although I’m not the best dancer). I also enjoy learning how to cook new recipes – but I must say, the kitchen is not my forte, so I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I see myself working as a clinical medical physicist, with involvement in both research and academia. One of my biggest goals is to extend my medical physics knowledge to other countries and encourage international students to pursue medical physics as a career. It’s my hope that the field of Medical Physics grows even more.