How Can I Become a Radiation Therapist?

Explore the career requirements for radiation therapists. Get the facts about job duties, education, licensure requirements and potential job growth 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 use of radiation for the treatment of diseases, especially cancer. Based on the recommendations of a healthcare team, including oncologists and dosimetrists, radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to patients. Before the treatment, they consult with patients and answer questions about the treatment, and they often x-ray the patient to figure out exactly where radiation needs to be applied. They also make sure that the linear accelerator machine is working properly, in order to ensure the safety of the patient and all members of the healthcare team. Because they work with patients who are both physically uncomfortable and emotionally stressed, radiation therapists must have good communication skills and a positive, empathetic attitude.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Radiation therapy
Key Responsibilities Use computerized machine to administer radiation doses; follow radiation safety protocols; maintain patient records regarding radiation treatments; monitor patient for adverse effects
Licensure and/or Certification Most states require licensure; professional certification is optional but may be required for licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14%*
Median Salary (2015) $80,220*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Radiation Therapist Do?

As a radiation therapist, you will be part of the oncology team treating a cancer patient. You will use computer tomography (CT) and X-ray machines to locate tumors. In addition, you will administer radiation treatment using a linear accelerator machine, positioning the patient and operating the machine to deliver the dosage of radiation specified in the treatment plan. Your duties will also include maintaining precise records of the treatments. You may assist a dosimetrist or radiation oncologist with calculating the dosage of radiation to be administered and developing other parts of the treatment plan.

You will play a role as well in patient education, explaining the treatments and potential side effects to patients. You will also need to pay careful attention at all times to safety procedures and protocols as you work with high levels of radiation.

What Education, Training and Certification Do I Need?

To become a radiation therapist, you will need an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. In most states, you will need to be licensed. The certification exam administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is commonly used for licensing. Before taking the ARRT exam, you must complete a radiation therapy program recognized by ARRT. While certificates in the field are available, beginning in 2015, candidates must earn an academic degree before qualifying to take the ARRT exam.

Topics covered in the ARRT exam include clinical concepts, radiation protection, treatment planning and delivery and patient care and education.

What's the Job Outlook?

During the decade 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 14% growth in employment for radiation therapists (www.bls.gov). The BLS also notes that opportunities will be greatest for those candidates with both related work experience and a bachelor's degree.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in a job involving the operation of radiation equipment, you may want to consider a career as a radiologic technologist or MRI technologist. Instead of using radiation to treat disease, these professionals use x-ray and/or MRI technology to create images that can be used for the diagnosis of disease. Like radiation therapists, they must hold at least an associate's degree in order to practice. Another option is a job as a nuclear medicine technologist. In this job, technologists prepare radioactive drugs, administer them to patients and operate the machinery that is used to take diagnostic images. An associate's degree is needed for this occupation, and professionals need to be licensed in some states.

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