Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Interest Area: 
Helping
Average Yearly Pay: 
$72910
Education Needed: 
Vocational Training or Associate Degree
Employment: 
Growing Much Faster Than Average
Job Growth: 
27%
Job Prospects: 
Good

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Job Duties: 

Radiation therapists typically do the following:

  • Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
  • Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure to radiation
  • Examine machines to make sure they are safe and working properly
  • X ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
  • Check computer programs to make sure the machine will give the correct dose of radiation to the appropriate area of the patient's body
  • Operate the machine to treat the patient with radiation
  • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
  • Keep detailed records of treatment
  • Career Overview: 

    Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

    Duties

    Radiation therapists typically do the following:

    • Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
    • Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure to radiation
    • Examine machines to make sure they are safe and working properly
    • X ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
    • Check computer programs to make sure the machine will give the correct dose of radiation to the appropriate area of the patient's body
    • Operate the machine to treat the patient with radiation
    • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
    • Keep detailed records of treatment

    Machines called linear accelerators are used to deliver radiation therapy. These machines direct high-energy x rays at specific cancer cells in a patient's body, shrinking or removing them. 

    Radiation therapists are part of the oncology team that treats patients with cancer. They often work with the following specialists:

    • Radiation oncologists, physicians who specialize in radiation therapy
    • Oncology nurses, registered nurses who specialize in caring for patients with cancer
    • Radiation physicists, physicists who calibrate linear accelerators
    Work Environment: 

    Radiation therapists held about 19,100 jobs in 2012. Most therapists work in hospitals, offices of physicians, and outpatient centers.

    Radiation therapists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients. Because they work with radiation and radioactive material, radiation therapists must follow safety procedures to make sure that they are not exposed to a potentially harmful amount of radiation. These procedures usually require therapists to stand in a different room while the patient undergoes radiation procedures.                                   

    Work Schedules

    Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

    Education and Training: 

    Most radiation therapists complete programs that lead to an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

    Education

    Although candidates may qualify by completing a 12-month certificate program, employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy.

    Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. These programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology.

    Important Qualities

    Detail oriented. Radiation therapists must follow exact instructions and input exact measurements to make sure the patient is exposed to the correct amount of radiation.

    Interpersonal skills. Radiation therapists work closely with patients. It is important that therapists be comfortable interacting with people who may be going through physical and emotional stress.

    Physical stamina. Radiation therapists must be able to be on their feet for long periods and be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

    Technical skills. Radiation therapists work with computers and large pieces of technological equipment, so they must be comfortable operating those devices.

    Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

    In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed; requirements vary by state. To be licensed, radiation therapists must graduate from an accredited radiation therapy program and be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To become ARRT certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education.

    Advancement

    Experienced radiation therapists may advance to manage radiation therapy programs in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Managers generally continue to treat patients while taking on managerial responsibilities. Other advancement opportunities include teaching, technical sales, and research. With additional training and certification, therapists can become dosimetrists. Dosimetrists are responsible for calculating the correct dose of radiation that is used in the treatment of cancer patients.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for radiation therapists was $77,560 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,720, and the top 10 percent earned more than $113,810.

    Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

    Job Outlook: 

    Employment of radiation therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,500 new jobs over the 10-year period.

    The risk of cancer increases as people age, so an aging population will increase demand for radiation therapists. Early diagnosis and the development of more sophisticated treatment techniques will also increase employment.

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