Radiation Therapists Overview
With relatively high earnings and good job opportunities, radiation therapists are usually required to have an associate’s, bachelor’s degree or certificate in radiation therapy. Employment for radiation therapists is expected to grow faster than other occupations.
Nature of the Work for Radiation Therapists
Radiation therapists use linear accelerator machines as well as administer radiation treatment for patients with cancer looking to treat with radiation therapy. External beam therapy can require the use of linear accelerators to project high-energy x-rays at cancer cells. The collision of human tissue with these x-rays can shrink and eliminate these cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments to fight cancer.
A treatment plan must be created by an oncology team before treatment can begin. A radiation therapist will use an x-ray imaging machine or CT scan to locate the tumor so a radiation oncologist or radiation physicist can determine the best treatment for the patient. The radiation therapist will then adjust the linear accelerator and record the details so these conditions can be replicated during the treatment process. A radiation therapist will also explain the plan to the patient while answering any questions they may have.
The radiation therapist will begin treatment by using guidelines that were developed during the planning phase. The radiation therapist will operate the linear accelerator from a different room while monitoring the patient’s physical and emotional well-being by using a TV monitor and intercom system. Treatment time can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.
Detailed records are important to a radiation therapist who will keep information such as radiation doses, total radiation used and patient reaction for each patient receiving the treatment. Radiation therapists can also assist dosimetrists or oncologists who review these records, with routine aspects of dosimetry.
Radiation therapists usually work in cancer treatment centers or hospitals where the work environment is clean, well ventilated and well lit. Lifting and helping disable patients may also be a part of the job since many radiation therapists spend most of their time working on their feet.
The usual workweek for a radiation therapist involves working 40 hours during the day. When radiation therapy emergencies occur, radiation therapists may need to be on call or required to work additional or irregular hours.
Many radiation therapists find their jobs rewarding even in stressful situations. Radiation therapists must also make sure they are not exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation when working around radioactive materials by taking appropriate measures and following safety procedures.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Radiation Therapists
Many states and employers require radiation therapists to be licensed or be certified. Those with experience can move up to managerial positions with these certifications.
An associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy is usually required while some employers will accept a degree in radiography and then completing a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy. A radiation therapy course program will usually include courses in radiation therapy as well as human anatomy, physiology, writing, or computer science. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART) accredits 102 radiation programs in the United States.
Thirty three states require licenses for radiation therapists to work. Each state’s requirements vary but most require radiation therapists to pass the ARRT examination. The exam covers radiation protection, quality assurance and other clinical concepts and requires that the radiation therapist must demonstrate proficiency in clinical practices such as dosimetry calculations or patient care activities. The ARRT certification is valid for a year and radiation therapists must renew this certification as well as pay dues and continue on with their education requirements. These education requirements must be met every 2 years by either completing 24 course credits or attaining the ARRT certification. Some states may not require certification renewal.
Good communication skills, empathy, being physically fit and accurate are important characteristics of a radiation therapist.
Radiation therapists looking to advance in their career may manage radiation therapy programs in treatment centers, teach, be involved in technical sales, or research. Radiation therapists can also become dosimetrists by completing addition training and obtaining certification.
Employment and Job Outlook for Radiation Therapists
Out of the 15,570 jobs held by radiation therapists, 18 percent work in physicians’ offices while 70 percent work in hospitals.
Job prospects for radiation therapists are expected to increase by 27 percent. The growing elderly population will affect this increase since the demand for radiation therapists will be higher. As radiation technology becomes more effective and safer, more people will turn to radiation therapy as a form of treatment, hence the need for radiation therapists. Radiation therapists will be needed in places such as hospitals, outpatient centers and physicians’ offices. Due to employment growth and those leaving and retiring from the workplace, more job opportunities will be available for radiation therapists. The best opportunities will most likely be for those with a bachelor’s degree or work experience.
Earnings and Salary for Radiation Therapists
Median annual wages of radiation therapists are $74,170. The middle 50 percent earn between $60,530 and $90,650. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $49,980, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $107,230.
Employers may cover the cost of continuing education for their employees.