Radiation Therapist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for radiation therapists. Get the facts about education and licensing requirements, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Radiation Therapist?

A radiation therapist is a medical professional who specializes in the administration of radiation treatments for patients with cancer and other diseases. Based on the orders of a radiation oncologist or medical physicist, therapists take x-rays to determine which part of the body needs radiation treatment, and they maintain and operate linear accelerators, which are the machines used for the procedure. Radiation therapists also monitor the patient's response throughout the procedure and make careful notes about how it goes, which doctors can use to develop therapeutic strategies in the future.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a radiation therapist.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Radiation therapy
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required in most states; professional certification is a prerequisite for licensure
Key Responsibilities Follow radiation safety protocols; operate machine to deliver the correct dose of radiation to the correct location on the patient's body; explain procedures to patients and maintain patient records; monitor patients during treatment
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14%*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $80,220*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Duties Will I Have as a Radiation Therapist?

Working with a medical team, radiation therapists treat cancer and other illnesses by giving patients targeted radiation dosages prescribed by a doctor. The work involves operating radiation therapy machinery.

You might use a linear accelerator to give external beam therapy, which aims highly energized X-rays at the appropriate body parts to eradicate or diminish tumors. You would arrange and immobilize the patient before adjusting the linear accelerator to give the appropriate dosage as specified by the team, including a physician, radiation physicist and dosimetrist.

To protect against overexposure to radiation, you would manipulate the linear accelerator from another room that is fortified while observing the patient via a TV monitor and intercom. You would advise the doctor if the patient displayed any unexpected reactions to treatment.

As a radiation therapist, your duties would include protecting the patient, yourself and other workers from radiation exposure. You also would keep precise data on the treatments, including any side effects experienced by the patient, therapy machinery settings, the body site being treated and the amount of radiation dosage used per session plus the total to date.

What Education Should I Obtain?

You can choose from two educational paths: an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. You'll learn about cancer, anatomy, medical imaging, medical terminology, planning treatments, pathology, radiation physics and radiation safety precautions.

You also might choose to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in radiography followed by a one-year certificate program in radiation therapy.

Will I Need a License or Certification?

Most states mandate that you obtain a license to work as a radiation therapist. The licensing requirements differ from state to state. You'll need to get certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) to obtain a license in most states. Most potential employers also demand that radiation therapists get ARRT certification.

To earn ARRT certification in radiation therapy, you need to pass an accredited program that is recognized by ARRT, show proficiency in clinical procedures, pass ARRT certification testing and abide by the organization's ethical principles. You must renew your registration yearly plus meet continuing education requirements to keep your certification.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median yearly salary for radiation therapists nationwide was $80,220 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicted that job opportunities for radiation therapists will increase by 14% between 2014 and 2024.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in being part of a cancer treatment team, you may want to consider a job as an oncology nurse. These professionals are part of the healthcare team that works with radiation therapists to administer radiation therapy, and they are also involved in other aspects of the cancer patient's health care, such as monitoring symptoms and administering other treatments. To become an oncology nurse, you need to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree and pass the registered nurse (RN) exam. If you are interested in radiation technology itself, you may be interested in a job as a radiographer or MRI technologist. These professionals use x-ray, CAT scanners and MRI scanners to diagnose many conditions, including some cancers. Like radiation therapists, the minimum educational requirement for one of these jobs is an associate's degree.

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