Radiation therapists are typically part of a cancer management team. They record, interpret and administer the treatments prescribed by a radiation oncologist. They utilize a variety of equipment such as cobalt units and linear accelerators. During a patient's treatment, radiation therapists help doctors use X-ray films, fluoroscopy or CT scans and outline anatomic areas that require treatment. They help locate tumors, update treatment reports and measure the amount of radiation.
Radiation therapists are in continual contact with patients during their course of treatment and provide education about the treatments and simulation procedures and explain the potential radiation side effects. Radiation therapists need to adhere to regulated standards in order to protect patients and practitioners from high doses of radiation. They also monitor a patient's progress and emotional needs.
- Monitor the patient's emotional state
- Use internal images to find the precise location of the cancer
- Observe and document the reaction of patients to their treatments
- Look out for the safety of patients
- Monitor the physical condition of the patient during the treatment phase
- Answer patients' radiology questions
- Maintain equipment
- Follow all safety regulations regarding radiation exposure
- Operate linear accelerator
The occupation involves a considerable amount of walking, standing, lifting and moving of patients. Radiation therapists need to wear special badges which monitor radiation exposure. They also need to adhere to safety procedures and programs. Radiation therapists usually work 40 hours per week. They typically only work during the day.
Radiation therapists should be empathetic to the suffering of others. Since they spend a lot of time with patients good communication skills are helpful. They should be detailed oriented.
The employment of radiation therapists has been projected to grow by 27 percent from 2008 to 2018 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which is much faster than average for all occupations. The growing elderly population is forecasted to increase the demand for radiation treatments.
In 2008 the median annual salary for radiation therapists was $72,910. The top paid 10 percent earned more than $104,350.
Experienced radiation therapists may move up to positions including chief therapist, dosimetrist, manager of a radiation department, education director and administrative positions. Those that have a strong mathematical aptitude and acquire additional training may become dosimetrists, who utilize complex mathematical formulas to calculate the appropriate radiation doses.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Employers typically require candidates to have completed a bachelor's or an associate degree program in radiation therapy. Candidates may become qualified for the occupation by completing a bachelor's or an associate degree program in radiography, which is the study of radiological imaging, and then earning a certificate from a one year program in radiation therapy. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists provides accreditation to radiation therapy programs.
There were 33 states in 2009 that required radiation therapists to be licensed by the State accrediting board. The licensing requirements vary by state. In many states applicants must pass the ARRT certification examination. Many employers require radiation therapists to be certified by ARRT. To become certified by ARRT, candidates need to complete an accredited radiation therapy program, pass the ARRT certification examination and adhere to ARRT ethical standards.
Radiation therapy programs provide courses in radiation therapy procedures as well as the related scientific theories. They usually include classes in physics, pre-calculus, algebra, human anatomy, physiology, research methodology and computer science.
The major employers are hospitals, clinics, independent cancer treatment centers and universities.
Schools for Radiation Therapists are listed in the Browse Schools Section.