Medical Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapists use advanced technological equipment to administer limited amounts of radiation to patients suffering from tumors and other cancers. Read on to learn more about certification and education requirements for radiation therapists, as well as what you can expect to earn in the field.

Is Medical Radiation Therapy for Me?

Career Overview

Medical radiation therapy is the process by which specialized machinery, called linear accelerators, is used to administer a prescribed dose of high-energy x-ray to a specific area of the body. This medical dose of radiation helps to reduce or eradicate cancerous tumors and is part of a treatment approach that may also include surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapists work closely with oncologists (physicians who treat cancer) and other members of the treatment team to develop an individualized plan for each patient to most effectively treat his or her cancer.

Job Duties

As a radiation therapist, you'll use computed tomography (CT) and x-ray imaging to help physicians pinpoint tumors. In accordance with treatment plans developed by doctors and dosimetrists, you'll then deliver planned doses of radiation, working closely with patients from the beginning to the end of the process. Throughout the process, you'll need to keep accurate treatment records and carefully monitor the condition of your patients.

Required Skills

As a radiation therapist, you'll most likely be employed in a cancer treatment center or hospital. Good communication and interpersonal skills are important, since you'll need to make patients feel comfortable during a stressful and difficult period of their lives. You'll also need to be in fairly good physical health, since the job requires lifting and moving patients and heavy equipment. Physical demands also include being on your feet, standing and walking, for long periods of time.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for radiation therapists are projected to increase by 24%, which is considered to be much faster than the average for all other occupations. As of May 2013, the BLS also reported that radiation therapists earned a median annual wage of $79,140 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Medical Radiation Therapy?

Associate Degree Programs

To become a radiation therapist, you'll need at least an associate degree in radiation therapy. In an associate degree program, you'll study radiation and its use in treating cancer and take classes in pathology, oncology and radiobiology. You'll also take courses in mathematics and radiation physics and train in diagnostic radiology techniques. As the work of a radiation therapist involves a high-level of patient contact, coursework in ethics and psychology will also be included.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy may provide you with the best opportunities for employment. In addition to general education courses, you'll study anatomy and physiology, radiation math and physics, biology and medical terminology. You'll also receive training in radiation safety and techniques and dosimetry and participate in a hands-on, clinical practicum. If you already possess a degree in a related field, such as radiography or nursing, you may complete a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy.

Certification and Licensing

Requirements for radiation therapists vary from state to state. In many states, you must be licensed, and the majority of employers require that you be certified. Qualified candidates may be eligible for certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To obtain your radiation therapist certification, you'll need to graduate from an accredited program, follow specific ethical guidelines and pass the exam offered by the ARRT. You may not be eligible if you've been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. (www.aart.org).

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