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LSU Fulbright Scholar to Examine Cancer Care Disparities in Croatia

LSU Medical physics student Lydia Wilson realizes a long-time dream as she is named LSU’s most recent Fulbright Scholar. She will be spending a year in Croatia studying disparities in radiotherapy cancer treatment as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which offers fellowships for U.S graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists to study abroad for one academic year.

LSU Fulbright ScholarLSU student Lydia Wilson will be spending a year in Croatia studying disparities in radiotherapy cancer treatment as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Above, she’s pictured preparing to bungee jump on the island of Korčula, from which her family originates.
Photo provided by Lydia Wilson

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I am actually a Fulbright Scholar, and it probably won’t sink in until I get to Croatia,” said Wilson, who spent nearly a year preparing her application for the program.

Harald Leder, director of LSU Academic Programs Abroad, guided her through the arduous process.

“Ms. Wilson’s preparation was exemplary. The process is very involved and requires a lot of dedication and detailed work, apart from academic excellence,” said Leder. “Ms. Wilson was the ideal candidate and we are very proud that she continues the LSU tradition of excellence with Fulbright.”

Wilson is a Chicago native, but her family roots can be found on the Croatian island of Korčula, where she still has many relatives.

“Croatia is a perfect place for this type of research. The country is in transition recovering from years of war in the 1990s,” says Wilson. “War has major implications on the quality and availability of healthcare treatments, especially for cancer patients. I was curious to see how the country has picked up after being in disarray for so long.”

Wilson will be observing medical physicists and therapists at five radiotherapy centers in Croatia with most of her time spent at the Zagreb Cancer Clinic in the country’s capital city. Her research will focus on treatments for the five most common cancers: breast, prostate, lung, colorectal and anal.

She visited the Zagreb Clinic in 2009 to interview cancer treatment professionals about the current state of the country’s healthcare system and to determine if Croatia was indeed the ideal place for her research. Croatia’s cancer mortality rate is nearly twice as high as the U.S., even though the country’s cancer incidence rate is almost equal to the U.S. The outcome of those interviews was the realization of possible disconnect between Croatia’s healthcare administrators and the healthcare professionals who work with patients day to day. Throughout her study, Wilson will examine treatment doses, modalities, planning techniques and quality assurance tests. She will then draw comparisons between radiotherapy practices in the Croatian clinics and those in the U.S. with the goal of identifying where improvements can be made.

“In America we raise lots of money to support cancer research and treatment. I want to make sure that everyone has access to quality cancer treatment, whether they are in the U.S. or a developing country,” said Wilson.

Wilson has been conducting research in the laboratory of Wayne Newhauser, Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair of Medical Physics and director of LSU’s Medical Physics and Health Physics program. She will be graduating with a Master of Medical Physics in 2014. After graduation she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in medical physics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and work in pediatric cancer care.

About the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” With this goal as a starting point, the Fulbright Program has provided almost 310,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.