How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Average Salaries, Job Duties, and Education Requirements for RTs

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Radiation therapy is a great allied health career option, in the field of oncology. Radiation therapists specialize in administering doses of radiation to treat cancerous growths in patients. The radiation, in various forms, and delivered via various methods, helps to shrink the tumor.

Work Settings and Employers

Radiation therapists may be employed by hospitals, or, most commonly, they may work in cancer treatment centers.

Radiation therapists often work as part of a cancer treatment team including an oncologist, nurses, medical imaging professionals, and more.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers of radiation therapists prefer that candidates have at least an associate's degree, and sometimes a bachelor's degree. However, sometimes the 12-month certificate program suffices as well.

Additionally, one must complete an accredited training program in radiation therapy, which often includes a 12-month certification program. The education program includes training in a variety of core competencies including "human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science, and research methodology."

You must obtain a state license to practice if you live in a state requiring a license.

Additionally, certification by the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) is required by most employers.

This certification is obtained by passing the ARRT's certification exam.

What Do Radiation Therapists Do? 

Radiation therapists use high-tech machines, called linear accelerators, to administer beams of radiation directly to the patient's tumor.

First, the radiation therapist must identify the location of the tumor using imaging equipment, such as a CT scanner.

According to the BLS, this is called "simulation".

Once the tumor location has been pinpointed, the radiation therapist operates the linear accelerator from a separate room where they are not exposed to the radiation. Each treatment session is about 30 minutes and is delivered regularly, sometimes daily, over the course of several weeks.

During the course of radiation therapy, the radiation therapist monitors the health of the patient and adjusts for any serious side effects. According to the BLS, this includes keeping detailed medical records. Additionally, because patients are often under emotional and physical stress, radiation therapists must have exceptional interpersonal skills, and be able to help offer emotional support during a difficult time in a patient's life.

Salaries

The median salary for radiation therapists is $80,090, according to the BLS.

The top 10 percent of radiation therapists earned up to $118,180.

With the prevalence of cancer in the population, radiation therapy is a very stable career with an excellent outlook. The BLS projects a 14 percent growth rate in the field in the decade ending in 2024 - which is considered "faster than average" growth for a career field.

Professional Associations

For more information about certification, licensure, and job postings, specific to radiation therapy, professional associations are always an excellent resource for medical professionals.

Source

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Radiation Therapists. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm.

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