Radiation Therapist Careers

by TBS Staff
• 6 min read
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Radiation therapists work with oncology teams to monitor and provide care to patients undergoing cancer treatment. These professionals remain in high demand.

Do you want to help people with cancer heal and recover using sophisticated medical technology? The field of radiation therapy will likely appeal to you. Radiation therapists use complex machines and precise techniques to eliminate cancers from patients' bodies. Moreover, radiation therapist jobs offer high salaries and potential for specialization and advancement.

The road to becoming a radiation therapist includes education, training, and official certification. These requirements may seem intimidating, but this page offers a step-by-step guide to the profession.

Learn more about how to become a radiation therapist and what to expect from this exciting career field, including radiation therapist salary data, specializations, and job duties.

What Do Radiation Therapists Do?

Radiation therapists are healthcare workers who administer radiation treatments to cancer patients using specialized technology and procedures. They typically work as part of an oncology team under the guidance of specialized healthcare providers, such as radiation oncologists and oncology nurses.

To administer treatment, radiation therapists operate machines called medical linear accelerators (LINAC). LINAC machines deliver X-rays that adjust to the cancerous tissue's size, shape, and location, gradually shrinking it. On a typical day, a radiation therapist operates a LINAC machine to deliver treatment, protects patients from harmful radiation exposure, reviews treatment plans created by oncologists, and records patient progress.

Radiation Therapist Specializations

Radiation therapists can pursue various specializations in radiologic technology. While some specializations focus on specific areas of oncological care, such as mammography, others may require more education, training, or certification. Some of the most common specializations for radiation therapy professionals include:

  • Mammography
  • Sonography
  • Bone densitometry
  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Interventional radiology
  • Medical physics

Where Do Radiation Therapists Work?

Radiation therapists work full time in healthcare settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, and oncology clinics. They also work in research-focused settings like universities or data analysis companies. The industries that most commonly employ radiation therapists are healthcare, research, and education.

As an essential service, radiation therapists have continued to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. One major difference between the work of radiation therapists and that of other oncology team members relates to remote work. While oncologists can telecommute, radiation therapists must work with patients in person.

Radiation Therapist Skills

Succeeding as a radiation therapist requires drawing upon a diverse skill set, including analytical thinking and communication skills. Radiation therapists need proficiency in operating and monitoring complex equipment. They need to be detail-oriented in order to calibrate equipment to exact measurements and follow instructions to properly deliver treatment. Strong observation and data collection skills help them collect important information that can affect patients' treatment plans.

Radiation therapists also need strong communication skills to help support patients and ensure their physical and emotional comfort. Interviewing skills also help for documenting information on patient progress and treatment efficacy.

Radiation Therapist Career Information

Radiation therapy career benefits include high salary and job growth projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median salary for radiation therapists was $86,850 as of May 2020. In California and New York, the median salary reaches $40,000 over the national median. Radiation therapists' specialized training makes their work in-demand and lucrative.

Salary and Job Growth for Radiation Therapists

Median Salary: $86,850
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 7%

Highest Paying States for Radiation Therapists
State Median Salary
1. California $126,610
2. New York $120,470
3. Oregon $107,920
4. Washington $106,450
5. Montana $103,570
Source: BLS

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Becoming a radiation therapist requires education, clinical training, and formal certification. However, you do not even need a bachelor's degree to become a radiation therapist.

Read on to discover the steps for becoming a radiation therapist.

Education

To become a radiation therapist, you first need to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is one of the highest-paying professions that only requires an associate degree. You can also earn a radiology degree in place of majoring in radiation therapy.

Entry requirements for radiation therapy and radiology degrees vary. Most schools just require a high school diploma and science and math coursework. Some programs, however, require applicants to present observation hours in hospital-based radiation therapy centers. Radiation therapists do not need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to gain admission to associate or bachelor's programs in radiation therapy.

The typical radiation therapy associate degree takes two years to complete. In contrast, it takes four years to earn a bachelor of science in radiation therapy. Common courses for both degrees explore imaging in radiation therapy, therapeutic radiobiology, and oncology treatment procedures.

Radiation therapy associate and bachelor's programs also typically include clinical components at local radiation therapy centers. Students learn to apply their knowledge of LINAC operation, oncology procedure, and radiation therapy techniques during clinical hours.

Many radiation therapists further their education in pursuit of career advancement. Some earn bachelor's or master's degrees in medical dosimetry to become dosimetrists. Others earn master's in medical physics degrees to pursue work as medical physicists. Still, others go on to medical school to earn doctorates and become radiation oncologists — full-fledged doctors who create radiation-based treatment plans for cancer patients.

What to Look for in a Program

When researching radiation therapy degrees, only consider programs from accredited schools to ensure that you can transfer credits and that you will receive a credible degree. Check with each prospective school to ensure that the program holds approval from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). This organization handles certification for all radiologic technology careers, including radiation therapy.

You might need to earn your radiologic technology degree with a radiation therapy or oncology concentration.

Licensure and Certification

Radiation therapists need state licensure and national certification. This requires passing the national exam for radiation therapists from the ARRT. The exam costs $200 on the first attempt and $175 for subsequent tries. Once you pass the ARRT registry exam, you can apply for state licensure.

Most states require ARRT certification, a degree, and varying levels of clinical experience to apply for licensure. However, state licensure requirements vary. For instance, radiation therapists do not need state licensure to work in Pennsylvania.

Certified radiation therapists (RTs) must renew their certifications every two years. During this time, each professional should accumulate 24 continuing education credits. Check the ARRT's website to find approved continuing education providers.

RTs also need to verify their continuing qualification requirements through the ARRT every 10 years. Each RT completes a professional profile and structured self-assessment, followed by continuing education credits.

In most states, you must earn roughly 20 continuing education credits every two years to successfully renew your license. However, license renewal requirements vary by state.

Similar Careers


Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians help physicians diagnose and treat heart and vascular health issues. Like radiation therapists, these healthcare workers operate complex medical equipment, such as electrocardiogram machines. To become a cardiovascular technician, you only need a high school diploma.


Radiologic Technologists

Radiologic technologists visualize the inside of patients' bodies with medical imaging machines that use X-rays, sonograms, and CT scans. Like radiation therapists, they study radiology as students and operate complex machinery. An aspiring radiologic technologist typically needs a radiologic technology associate degree.


Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical therapist assistants help people recover from and cope with physical injuries under certified physical therapists' direction. Similar to radiation therapists, their work involves operating equipment such as stationary bikes and rowing machines as therapeutic tools. A physical therapist assistant typically only needs a high school diploma.

Radiation Therapist Professional Organizations

ASRT represents and advocates for professionals in the medical imaging and radiation therapy fields. The organization offers continuing education credit opportunities recognized by ARRT and an online career center. ASTRO's more than 10,000 members include oncologists, oncology nurses, and radiation therapists. Radiation therapist students can access networking events and patient information resources through free oncology student memberships.

Frequently Asked Questions About Radiation Therapists

true How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?

Becoming a radiation therapist can take 2-4 years, depending on state licensure requirements.

true Are Radiation Therapists in Demand?

Yes. As the baby-boom generation continues to age, specialized oncology healthcare workers like radiation therapists continue to grow in demand to help treat cancer patients.

true Is It Hard to Become a Radiation Therapist?

No. To become a radiation therapist, you do not need to attend medical school or earn higher credentials than an associate degree, depending on your state. However, radiation therapists need strong critical thinking and communication skills to complete coursework.

Header Image Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc | DigitalVision | Getty Images

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