Before treatment can begin, a radiation therapist uses X-ray imaging or computer tomography (CT) scans to locate the patient’s tumor. Then, the radiation oncologist and radiation physicist determine the best method to administer treatment. The therapist sets up the linear accelerator according to the physician’s specifications, and records its details in order to replicate conditions throughout treatment.
Radiation therapists explain treatments to patients and answer their questions. During treatment, they monitor the patient’s physical condition to determine any adverse reactions, and they also provide support to emotionally fragile or stressed patients.
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Additional aspects of the radiation therapist’s job include keeping detailed records of treatment, including the area treated, amount of radiation used, and patient reactions.
Radiation Therapists Job Summary
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment for radiation therapists will grow much faster than average for all occupations
- Good job opportunities are expected in this field.
- Typically, a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy is necessary to enter the profession.
- Most states require licensing and/or certification.
Work Environment for Radiation Therapists
Typically, radiation therapists work in hospitals and cancer treatment facilities, in a clean, well-lit environment. Radiation therapists must lift and help patients on and off of treatment tables. Their days include long periods of standing and walking.
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Radiation therapists work around radioactive materials, so they must follow safety procedures to prevent overexposure. Due to their work with cancer patients, radiation therapists’ jobs can be stressful.
Most radiation therapists work 40 hours per week, usually during the day – unlike many other jobs in the healthcare field. Some are on call and work outside regular hours, in cases of emergency.
Radiation Therapists Education, Training, and Licensing
To pursue a radiation therapist career, a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or certificate in radiation therapy is necessary. Individuals may also become qualified by completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program in radiography, and then a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) had accredited 102 radiation therapy programs as of 2009.
Programs usually include courses on radiation therapy procedures, human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science, and research methodology.
Most states require radiation therapists to be licensed by a state accrediting board. Many also require applicants for licensing to pass the ARRT certification examination. Some employers require radiation therapists to be certified and licensed.
Certification qualifications include completing an accredited radiation therapy program, adherence to ARRT ethical standards, and passing the ARRT exam. The exam covers radiation protection, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning and delivery, and patient care and education.
Certification is valid for one year. Renewal requires abiding by ARRT ethical standards, paying dues, and participating in continuing education.
Radiation therapists need good communication skills because their jobs require a great deal of patient interaction. They also need to be psychologically able to work with cancer patients, and to be caring and empathetic when working with gravely ill patients. Keeping accurate records and being physically fit are two valuable attributes for radiation therapists.
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Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that radiation therapists held about 15,570 jobs in 2009. Most of these positions were in hospitals and physicians’ offices. A small number of therapists were employed in outpatient care centers, and medical and diagnostic laboratories.
The BLS projects that employment in this field will increase much faster than the average for all occupations, due to the growing aged population’s need for treatment. Additional demand will result as radiation technology becomes safer and more effective, leading to increased use of radiation therapy.
According to the BLS, radiation therapists earned a median yearly salary of $74,170 in May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $60,530 and $90,650, while the lowest 10% earned about $49,980. The highest 10% earned an estimated $107,230 annually.