New Faculty Member: Abby Besemer, PhD, DABR

Abigail Besemer headshot
Abby Besemer, PhD, DABR

Dr. Abby Besemer joined the Department of Human Oncology (DHO) as an assistant professor in August 2022 after serving as an assistant professor in the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center since 2018. Her joining DHO is a homecoming—she completed her radiation oncology physics residency and PhD in medical physics at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Besemer will lead the radiation oncology physics residency program, leveraging her experience in the program and her role as residency program co-director at her previous institution.

“I’m excited to get involved with the residency program. Since I went through the program, I know it really well. It’s a great program,” Dr. Besemer says. “I’m hoping to continue to grow and strengthen the program by incorporating new elements like cross-institutional training, soft skill and career development training, and a focus on resident wellness.”

Dr. Besemer works in the UW Health Radiation Oncology Clinic at University Hospital with a primary clinical focus on brachytherapy. Her research interests include brachytherapy, safety and quality assurance, image-guided radiation therapy, and radiopharmaceutical therapy.

Always interested in math and science, she triple-majored in math, physics, and astronomy at Indiana University. “I wanted to study cosmology—the beginning of the universe. My mindset was that if you’re going to be a scientist you should start at the beginning,” she says. “I was thinking that that was going to be my career. But my research as an undergraduate was very theoretical. It didn’t really relate to people’s everyday lives. I happened to take a medical physics class one summer and saw it as a way to use my physics knowledge to help people. I ended up taking a year off, did an internship at a proton therapy center, and realized I wanted to be a medical physicist.”

In graduate school, Dr. Besemer worked on radiopharmaceutical research in the UW Radiological Engineering and Design (RED) Lab led by Dr. Bryan Bednarz, associate professor in the Department of Medical Physics. “The RED Lab continues to grow, and there’s going to be a theranostic center in the new UW Health Eastpark Medical Center [scheduled to open in 2024].  I got away from that area of research when I was at UNMC, but I’m excited to get involved with it again.”

Originally from Indiana, Dr. Besemer is happy to be closer to family and to be reunited with UW colleagues. “I’ve kept in touch with everyone here through the years, and I’m happy to be working with them again,” she says. “There are lot of talented physicists here—all of them great mentors. I’m excited to work with them to learn ways to strengthen my clinical, research and teaching skills.”

As director of the radiation oncology physics residency program, Dr. Besemer hopes to help residents establish a healthy work-life balance. “I try to practice what I preach,” she says. “Outside of work I love being outdoors—hiking, swimming, camping, canoeing, kayaking. I’m also a huge strategy board game nerd. I collect board games. I’m excited to be renting a house that has enough room in the basement to showcase my board game collection.”