Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to patients with cancer and other diseases. The average radiation therapist salary exceeds $82,000 a year, making it one of the highest-paid careers for professionals with an associate degree. This article introduces radiation therapist jobs and how to become a radiation therapist.
Essential Career Information
- Medical Dosimetrist
- Radiation Therapist
- Radiation Therapy Technologist
- Registered Radiation Therapist
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
- Radiological and MRI Technologist
- Nuclear Medical Technologist
What is a Radiation Therapist?
Radiation therapists treat patients with cancer and other diseases with radiology equipment. They explain treatment plans to patients, protect patients from improper radiation exposure, and monitor patients after treatment. Radiation therapists also calibrate and operate radiology equipment.
Radiation therapists need strong technical skills to work with medical equipment. They also need a detail oriented outlook to follow precise instructions and target the appropriate treatment area with the correct amount of radiation. Additionally, radiation therapists need strong interpersonal skills since they interact with patients regularly.
Hospitals offer the most radiation therapy jobs, but doctors' offices and outpatient care centers also hire radiation therapists. The entry-level educational requirement for radiation therapy jobs is an associate degree, and the average radiation therapy salary exceeds $82,000 a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong job growth for radiation therapists through 2028.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many years does it take to become a radiation therapist?
Prospective radiation therapists can complete the minimum educational requirements for the job in two years by earning an associate degree in radiation therapy.
How do you become a radiation therapist?
Radiation therapists can earn an associate degree or a bachelor's degree to gain the training needed for their career. Radiation therapists typically must also obtain certification or licensure.
Is it dangerous to be a radiation therapist?
Radiation therapists learn how to minimize the danger of radiation exposure. In most roles, radiation therapists step outside the room during a radiation treatment to avoid exposure.
Is a radiation therapist a doctor?
No; radiation therapists are trained medical professionals, but they do not attend medical school or hold a medical license.
What Does a Radiation Therapist Do?
Radiation therapists administer precise doses of radiation to patients with cancer and other diseases. Radiation therapists must precisely target the treatment area and calibrate the medical equipment to administer appropriate radiation. They operate equipment during procedures and protect patients from the harmful effects of radiation exposure. After a treatment, radiation therapists make records of the treatment and monitor patients for reactions.
As part of the oncology team that treats cancer patients, radiation therapists often work with radiation oncologists — doctors who specialize in cancer treatment — and oncology nurses. Radiation therapists may also coordinate with medical physicists who plan radiation treatments and assess radiation outputs.
Radiation therapists can specialize in several areas. Medical dosimetrists, for example, calculate precise radiation dosages to minimize side effects of treatments. The position may require additional education and training. Radiological and MRI technologists use x-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans to diagnose conditions that may require radiation therapy.
Radiation therapists spend many hours on their feet. Depending on the job, they may also need to lift patients. Unlike many medical professionals, radiation therapists generally operate on a regular schedule without night, weekend, or on-call hours. Over the course of their career, radiation therapists must take precautions to limit their exposure to radiation.
Radiation Therapists vs Radiologic Technologists
Both radiation therapists and radiologic technologists work with advanced medical equipment. However, radiologic technologists, also called radiographers, use radiology technologies like X-rays and MRI scanners to create images that help diagnose cancer or other conditions, while radiation therapists administer cancer treatments.
Both radiation therapists and radiologic technologists typically need an associate degree and a state license or certification to practice. The average radiation therapist salary exceeds the salary for radiologic technologists by over $20,000, on average.
How to Become a Radiation Therapist
Radiation therapists often begin their training by enrolling in an associate program in radiation therapy. According to O*Net Online, half of radiation therapists hold an associate degree; however, an addition 38% hold a bachelor's degree. Radiation therapists with a higher degree may stand out in the job market. Radiation therapists also complete on-the-job training to hone their skills.
Radiation therapy students take courses on topics like pathology, oncology, and radiation physics. Students may also take courses in medical dosimetry or diagnostic medical sonography, depending on the program. Most radiation therapy programs incorporate clinical hours to give students hands-on experience.
Prospective radiation therapists should choose an accredited program. Accreditation expands employment, education, and financial aid opportunities. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits radiation therapy programs.
After completing education requirements, most radiation therapists must pursue licensure or certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) to practice. Radiation therapy jobs may also require additional medical certifications. For example, some roles require CPR certification or basic life support certification.
While an associate degree is the most common requirement for entry-level radiation therapy jobs, some employers hire candidates with a certificate. O*Net Online reports that 9% of radiation therapists hold a radiation therapy certificate. During a certificate program, students complete courses on topics like treatment planning, oncology, and radiation technology. Most certificate programs take one year for full-time students to complete, including hands-on training.
Associate Degree Programs
An associate degree in radiation therapy prepares graduates for entry-level radiation therapist jobs. The degree also meets the requirements for ARRT certification. Students take classes on radiation topics, like radiation physics and treatment planning, in addition to general education coursework. Students may also work in a clinical setting to build hands-on skills.
An associate degree in radiation therapy generally takes two years for full-time students to complete. Programs may set prerequisite coursework for admission, which may include a minimum GPA. Some programs offer part-time or online options to meet student needs.
Bachelor's Degree Programs
A bachelor's in radiation therapy helps radiation therapists advance their careers and qualify for competitive jobs. A bachelor's degree generally takes four years for full-time students to complete; however, registered radiation therapists with an associate degree can often transfer into a bachelor's program and complete degree requirements in two years.
During a bachelor's program, radiation therapy majors take classes on topics like radiologic science, oncology, and healthcare management. Many programs offer concentrations that prepare graduates for specialized careers after graduation. For example, a healthcare management concentration prepares students for leadership roles in the healthcare industry.
Professional Licensure and Certification
Most states only allow a licensed or certified radiation therapist to practice. While each state sets its own requirements, most radiation therapists need a degree from an accredited radiation therapy program and ARRT certification. ARRT certification requires a degree from an accredited radiation therapy program and passing scores on a certification exam. The exam tests candidates on quality assurance, clinical concepts, treatment planning, and patient care.
Licensed radiation therapists must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials. The American Society for Radiologic Technologists offers continuing education and professional development opportunities for radiation therapists. Earning a specialized radiation therapist certification in an area like medical dosimetry prepares graduates for career advancement.