Prusator '12 on track for Ph.D. in medical physics

Release Date: 4/16/2013

Mike Prusator, 2012 Ozarks graduate, always assumed he would become a doctor, but after taking a few physics courses at Ozarks his plans changed. Now, he is pursuing his Ph.D. in medical physics, specializing in radiation therapy.

Prusator, originally from Ochelata, Okla. graduated with magna cum laude honors from Ozarks with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and minors in biology, math, and physics. He recently returned to campus to share his experiences as a medical physics graduate student at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

"During my chemistry major, I realized that I enjoyed math and physics much more than medicine," Prusator said. "I thought then I would become a chemical engineer instead of a medical doctor."

It wasn't until Prusator's uncle, a radiation oncologist, introduced him to OU's medical physics program that Prusator understood the path he needed to take.

Michael Prusator '12

Michael Prusator, a 2012 Ozarks graduate, is pursuing a Ph.D. in medical physics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

"When I realized that I could combine math and physics with helping people, which is what I always found fulfilling about the idea of being a doctor, I knew medical physics was the path for me. It's the best of both worlds," he said.

Prusator's particular specialization is cancer treatment using radiation. Practically speaking, medical physicists service the radiation therapy machines and make sure everything is working properly.

"Medical physicists are responsible for everything radioactive or anything that produces any kind of radioactivity," Prusator said. "The medical physicist makes sure the machine is doing exactly what it says it is doing. We make sure that no one is going to get over-exposed to radiation during these therapies."

Prusator, who was an academic All-American baseball player at Ozarks, is also learning how to apply his math and physics background to patient treatment.

"There is a big research component involved with this field. The way I like to think about it is an engineer will create the radiation beam to treat a patient. The medical physicist will figure out the best way to use that beam. We figure out the safest, best, most efficient way to use radiation to treat cancer," he said.

As part of his graduate program, Prusator is required to work in the medical physics field. He currently assists a certified medical physicist at Stevenson Cancer Treatment Center at OU's Health Science Center.

"The biggest challenge for me has been shifting focus to a medical physics point of view. At Ozarks, I took chemistry, math, physics and biology, but at Ozarks I learned them all separately. In medical physics, everything comes together, and I have to be able to apply math and physics to the body," Prusator explained.

Prusator plans to finish up his master's degree in 2014 then head directly into the Ph.D. program, where he will continue his medical physics work and research.

"I'm currently researching proton therapy, a relatively new field which could prove to be more effective in treating cancer. I will continue my master's research into my Ph.D., which I hope to have finished in about four years. After that, I'll have to do a residency just like a medical doctor," he said.

While Prusator is excelling in this challenging field, he credits Ozarks with preparing him for the workload of graduate school.

"Being an athlete and a chemistry major taught me some of the most beneficial lessons at Ozarks," he said. "I had to learn how to balance baseball, classes, and an intense lab schedule. I learned quickly how to manage my time, and I have a good work ethic because of that. If I could go back, I'd make the same decision to attend Ozarks and do everything again. I don't think I could have gotten better preparation from any other school."