People with cancer might not know it, but Duke Eldridge of Peabody travels over 70,000 miles yearly to make sure disease detection and treatment machines in Kansas are working at their highest capacity to make health and healing possible.
Eldridge is a medical physicist and president of Kansas Radiation Physics, Inc., a small company located in Peabody. He is one of three board certified physicists who criss-cross the state of Kansas visiting every certified hospital and health facility, checking Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, Computed Tomography scanners, X-ray units, and mammography machines to make sure they are operating properly.
“Last year I checked 94 CT scanners in the state and almost half of all mammography machines,” Eldridge said. “If I find something wrong, I have to figure out what the problem is and then recommend someone to fix it.”
Eldridge enjoys solving problems and traveling. Working in the field of radiation technology gave him the challenge and opportunity to travel, providing support for hospital staff around the state.
“I thought about entering the medical field as a doctor at one point,” he said. “But I got started with radiation therapy, and then fixing and finding physical problems with the machines, and decided to take my show on the road.”
Eldridge earned a master’s degree in science from the University of Oklahoma, along with minors in math, physics, and biology. He applied his knowledge in medical physics work and for 28 years worked in diagnostic and radiation therapy.
He and his wife, Beth, moved to Peabody in 1995, along with five children. They were looking for a family-friendly small town, and a good place for a home base for Eldridge’s work.
“I worked at St. Francis (Medical Center) for 11 years. We used to live in Tulsa, then Andover, and then we found Peabody,” he said. “I am gone about one night a week and do a lot of daytime travel. Beth helps me with billings and office work, plus we do have one employee downtown.”
At 107 N. Walnut in Peabody, Eldridge keeps office space, equipment, and accounts.
“Most of my equipment travels with me,” he said. “I have a little black box worth over $20,000 that I use to check X-ray machines. Everything else is very specialized to what I do.”
Family also travels with Eldridge occasionally, including Beth, children when it fits their schedule, and more recently, grandchildren.
“My youngest son, Abe, now works with me, as have all my children at some point,” he said.
Early last week, Eldridge did not have to go far from home to get to work. On Feb. 28, he checked the CT scanner and X-ray units at Hillsboro Community Hospital. By Friday, however, he was in Plainville, testing resolution, contrast, and the mechanical workings of the town hospital’s mammography machine.
On Monday, Eldridge went to four places in Wichita and Newton, starting at Galicia Heart Hospital, stopping in at Ridge Plaza, then on to west Wichita, and finally Via Christi in Newton, certifying MRI machines for the year.
“I really enjoy the people I meet,” he said. “I work for over 75 facilities in Kansas, including the Newton, Hillsboro, and Marion hospitals.”
Eldridge also spends two days each week in Hays, where he works as a radiation therapy physicist at the Cancer Care Center.
“I run the CT scanner to find the cancer, use a linear accelerator to correctly angle treatment, and work on the computer entering the data,” he said. “I sign the charts and check to see that proper procedures are being followed.”
Eldridge also takes seriously safety training he is often asked to perform with staff at various hospitals and institutes.
“For the most part, what I do is safe,” he said. “But if you get too much exposure to radiation doing X-rays or CT scans, that can be bad. I do a lot of training in radiation safety for staff and technicians.”
Eldridge said one of the hardest things about his job was adapting to new situations, new machines, and new people. Each year he gains re-certification, either by attending a convention or by taking classes online.
“I stay on top of my trade so I can continue to provide support to the hospitals and the people who need them,” he said.