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Meet Grayden MacLennan

Meet Grayden MacLennan

Grayden is a dosimetrist at the Center. He came to here with a background in IT and worked his magic with our dosimetric systems. Now he creates the dose plans for many of our patients. Here are our 5 Questions with Grayden.

What’s your role in patient care?

Medical dosimetrists are part of the treatment design team, which includes physicians, dosimetrists, and physicists. If the physician is like the captain of the ship, making decisions about what we want to do, then the dosimetrist is like the navigator who tries to figure out the best plan to get it done. The physicist is like the ship's engineer, who provides expertise on what is and isn't possible, checks that plans match reality, and makes sure that everything is running safely and efficiently.

We don't always have very much direct contact with patients, but we spend hours and hours on each patient in our offices upstairs, looking over their imaging, mapping out anatomy in 3D, and figuring out beam arrangements that can effectively treat their disease while minimizing the radiation exposure of healthy organs and tissues.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

The standard answer to this kind of question is "helping patients," but we actually get to go a little bit beyond the standard definition of what that means. Proton therapy is a rapidly evolving field, and the pace of technology improvement is faster than I would have ever expected. We are constantly coming up with improvements to our techniques to boost the quality and speed of our planning, and the software from the vendors keeps improving, too.

I have been able to make use of my background in information technology to develop automation scripts for several daily planning tasks, which boosts the speed and consistency of results for those tasks across the entire department. Individually, they are just little things, but they add up over time. We have also shared some of our technique improvements with other centers, which means our contributions have the potential to help patients all over the world.

How did you end up in this career?

I started my medical imaging career on the commercial side rather than the clinical side. Here at the Proton Center we use several highly-specialized software packages to help us analyze patient imaging and figure out how to put a treatment plan together. My last job was working for one of the software companies that serves this industry, and my role was to travel around the country installing software and training people how to use it. Learning is a two-way street, and I always asked a lot of questions about the treatment planning process beyond just what our software did. I realized that I was far more fascinated by what my trainees were doing than by what I was doing, so I decided to go back to school to make the jump into the clinical world.

What do you like to do for fun?

I'm a board gamer and social dancer. On the board gaming front, I really enjoy puzzle games, strategy games, and resource optimization games. There are quite a few parallels between those types of games and what I do at work. I have been social dancing (mostly swing and blues) for over a decade, though I have been slowing down a bit lately. I suppose that both hobbies are examples of constrained creativity; you have a system of rules to follow, but you can be creative in what moves you choose to use and in how you play one action off another within that rule system.

Whom do you look up to?

I am a big fan of anyone who can blend science education and entertainment. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are two people who immediately jump to mind as great explainers of vastly complicated ideas in much more understandable and accessible terms. I just started teaching the Computers & Networking class for the medical dosimetry school I graduated from, so I hope I can learn to inspire people the same way.