What Is a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists are skilled technologists who administer concentrated doses of ionizing radiation to destroy diseased cells in cancer patients. Most states require licensure and certification for professionals who have earned an associates or bachelor's degree. Read on to learn more about this occupation, its requirements and its economic outlook. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

Radiation therapists operate a specialized machine called a linear accelerator to deliver high doses of therapeutic radiation to cancer patients. This therapy is part of a cancer treatment program devised by a radiation therapy team. These professionals are on this team, along with a radiation oncologist (cancer doctor), a radiation physicist, and a dosimetrist who decides how to deliver radiation safely.

The team works together to determine the treatment plan, which the radiation therapist carries out. The radiation therapist may be the only medical staff member the patient sees during the course of therapy, which can last days or weeks. As a result, the therapist may be a source of information and emotional support.

Specific job duties include:

  • Reviewing the radiation plan with the doctor and patient
  • Pinpointing and marking the exact location of the cancer
  • Positioning the patient
  • Aiming the linear accelerator for optimal performance and safety
  • Ensuring that the proper radiation dosage is given in a safe manner
  • Keeping treatment records
  • Monitoring the patient during treatments

Important Facts About This Occupation

Required EducationAssociate degree
Key SkillsDetail oriented, good interpersonal and technical skills, physical stamina
Work EnvironmentHospitals, offices of physicians, outpatient centers
Similar OccupationNuclear medicine technologists

Education and Training

Becoming a radiation therapist usually requires earning an associate or bachelor's degree; however, some may enter the field with a certificate. Some topics covered in a formal education program might include computer science, physics, physiology and human anatomy. Many radiation therapists begin their careers as radiographers (X-ray technicians). Students with a radiography background may need only one additional year of education and training to enter the field.

The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accredits radiation therapy schools. In 2009 there were 81 JRCERT-accredited radiation therapy programs in the United States, and these programs range from one to four years in length.

Certification and Licensure

Each state has its own licensing and certification requirements for radiation therapists. According to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), these professionals are specifically regulated in 35 states. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) grants certification to Radiation Therapists. To become certified, one must pass an ARRT exam, as well as agree to the organization's ethical code. In addition, one must have completed a formal training program. Radiation therapists maintain certification by completing continuing education requirements.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects radiation therapist employment growth to be much faster than average over the decade spanning 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). The projected 14% growth is due to an aging population with a higher risk of cancer. Most radiation therapists worked for general hospitals, physicians' offices, and outpatient care centers in 2014.

According to the BLS, radiation therapists had a median annual wage of $80,090 in May 2014. The bottom 10% of these medical professionals earned $53,590 or less annually, while the top 10% made $118,180 or more annually.

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