Concordia Nebraska prepared medical physicist Riley Tegtmeier for his current vocation

Published by Amy Crawford 3 weeks ago on Mon, Feb 5, 2024 12:55 PM

When Riley Tegtmeier ’20 began the college application process, he was already very familiar with Concordia University, Nebraska. 

“My godmother, Angela Muller, was the associate athletic director, and her son, Chandler Folkerts, was a member of the men's basketball team as well as a student in the physics department,” he said. “I was also very fortunate to get recruited to participate in several sports out of high school, including basketball. Ultimately, I selected Concordia Nebraska for a variety of reasons, including both the basketball and physics programs, but also since, as a member of the LCMS church growing up, I viewed it as a great opportunity to continue growing in my faith on a college campus, something that is not all that common this day in age.” 

Tegtmeier earned a bachelor of science degree in physics with a minor in mathematics from the university.  He said his time at the university was filled with hard work and blessed by deep and genuine friendships. 

“Without trying to sound cliché, I would say that my favorite thing about my Concordia experience by far was the life-long friendships I made along the way, many of whom I still keep in touch with and visit from time to time,” he said. “It was truly incredible to see people that were my opponents on the field and court in high school become my teammates and best friends in college.” 

He said the outstanding education he received at the university has also continued to have lasting effects on his life and career. 

“My academic experience at Concordia set me up for lifelong success outside of the classroom,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be nominated as one of Concordia's representatives for the Creigh Weyer Scholarship, and upon receiving that award, I was able to attend the top graduate school in my chosen field, which has paid dividends in my career already. None of that would have been possible without God leading me to Seward.” 

Tegtmeier cites numerous professors and mentors that greatly impacted him during his time at the university. 

“They all deserve equal thanks and praise, but I would say that in particular Dr. Robert Hermann helped me discover my purpose more than any. When I enrolled as a physics major at Concordia, I had not taken a formal physics or calculus course in high school,” he explained.  
“Therefore, the first few semesters required a ton of work as I tried to get up to speed on the fundamentals of the field that I knew would be imperative to my success later. I was in Dr. Hermann's office all the time during my first few months in school, and through it all he showed great patience and mentorship to help me discover the beauty and intricacies of God's creation through the lens of the physical sciences.” 

He added that his time at Concordia not only prepared him with the knowledge needed for his current vocation but also equipped him with a firm faith, which has been vitally important in his work in a STEM-focused career. 

“As a member of a STEM field, I have constantly been surrounded by atheists and others who do not believe that the laws of nature and the Laws of God can coexist. However, as these subjects were taught to me through a Christian worldview, I have been able to remain steadfast in my faith as I have navigated the challenges of my career,” he explained. “I remain convinced that God and science can and do coexist, and that by studying the physical laws of this universe, we get but a small glimpse into His mind and the ultimate power He holds over the universe. If anything, the more I study the inner workings of His creation, the more in awe I am of all that He has set in motion, and the more motivation I have to apply these principles to help others.” 

As a member of the LCMS church growing up, he said he was a Christian long before attending Concordia. However, his time at Concordia served to strengthen and clarify his faith, he said. 

“At some point in everyone's faith journey there is certainly a reflection point where one must decide to fully commit to God or to fall away,” he said. “I found that during my time at Concordia, my continued exposure to the Word of God helped me to continue to grow in my faith despite a world that seeks to take that away, especially for a group of young, vulnerable people. The faith I have that was further strengthened and developed during my time at Concordia has kept me steadfast in my devotion to God despite the turbulence of this temporary world.” 

Following his time at the university, Tegtmeier has attended graduate school and had a variety of opportunities to put his specialized education into practice. 

“With help of funds from the Creigh Weyer Scholarship, I was able to enroll in the medical physics graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 2020, highly regarded as the top program in the field,” he said. “While there, I was fortunate to have great success both in the classroom and in the lab. Out of nearly 20 incoming students in my class, all of whom were Ph.D. candidates, my education at Concordia allowed me to graduate at the top of the class academically. We all pursued our master of science degrees.” 

He was also a member of the Medical Radiation Research Center and Accredited Dosimetry Calibration Laboratory as both a research and project assistant, where he was able to perform research in the operational area of radiation therapy, dosimetry, and protection, as well as assist in the calibration of customer ionization chambers and survey meters. During his time in the lab, he was able to have four first-author publications accepted in various academic journals. Despite advisors hoping he would continue on with a Ph.D., he said was satisfied with his career choice to enter into the clinical realm of the field, and he decided to forego the option to receive a Ph.D. to apply for open residency positions following completion of his master’s degree.  

“The residency selection process is very similar to that of other medicinal disciplines, including a match process for placement. Despite unfavorable match statistics for someone in my position, I was able to receive great interest from many of the top residency programs in the field of medical physics, and I was fortunate enough to be placed at my top choice, which was the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona,” he said. “I enrolled in the residency program in the summer of 2022, and I have been completing my training ever since. I have only six and a half months left in the program, and the job search process is well underway.”  

By definition, medical physicists work in health care and apply their knowledge of physics to the development and use of medical radiation treatments, devices, and technologies, particularly for the treatment of cancer. Medical physicists make sure the equipment is operating correctly and are often involved directly with a patient's diagnosis and treatment, as well as with radiation safety and product development. Medical physicists often consult with physician colleagues to offer advice and resources to solve problems that occur when using radiation therapy.  

As medical physicists have three main components of work (clinical service and consultation, research and development, and teaching), the day-to-day tasks may vary greatly. Tegtmeier’s day may consist of planning radiation treatments for cancer patients, performing quality assurance measures to ensure equipment is safe, effective, and working properly, developing new safety procedures or conducting research in an effort to help push the field forward. 

“I believe one of the greatest joys and privileges of physicists in medicine is the ability to directly aid and impact a community and alleviate the pain of those suffering from this debilitating disease,” he said. 

During his time in Seward, one of Tegtmeier’s closest friends at the university introduced him to a new friend named Mitch Wingard.  

“In the years that followed, Mitch and I became very close, and when I matched with the Mayo Clinic, I was able to convince him to move to Phoenix with me. We spent nearly every day together for over a year and a half,” he said. 

Earlier this year, Wingard passed away unexpectedly.  

“For a period of time immediately after, my reality was shattered and life seemed dull. However, I found comfort in a conversation that Mitch and I shared just three weeks prior to his passing,” said Tegtmeier. “One night, in the parking lot of Natural Grocers, Mitch and I talked for nearly an hour about our faith in Jesus, including doubts and questions we had faced, but ultimately about how we both knew that one day everything would make perfect sense. The best part of the conversation was that we each shared what we imagined heaven would be like, and I know what Mitch is experiencing now is far greater than anything we could ever hope to dream up that night. Mitch was truly an incredible person, and perhaps the greatest example of living and serving others as Jesus did that I have seen from someone our age.” 

Tegtmeier said that he thankful that his faith was fed and nourished during his time at Concordia Nebraska, because that faith has helped him through the pain of losing his friend. 

“I know that God does not call us to know and understand everything, He asks us to simply trust that He does,” he said. “Jesus lived it too. He understands our pain, and I know that this too shall pass. When I am called home and meet our God face-to-face, I will ask him why he took Mitch from us so young and full of life, and I know that somehow, someway, His answer will make perfect sense.” 

Tegtmeier grew up on a farm just outside of Davenport, Nebraska. His mother and father, Rod and Judy, still live on the farm. He is the youngest of four children.  Growing up in a family that loves athletics, he does anything that he can to remain active.  

“At least twice a week, I play pickup basketball at the local gym. Living in Phoenix, I have also taken up playing golf year-round. Arizona is also home to incredible hiking and outdoor activities, so I attempt to exercise outdoors as much as I can, despite when the summer heat gets too intense). Outside of physical activities, I love to attend any area sporting, as well as Husker games - of course!- when I am able to make it back home. I also enjoy reading book on theoretical physics in my free time to keep up-to-date on the various areas of the field.” 

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