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For those seeking a career in the field of radiotherapy, there are numerous career paths to follow and make a decent living. However, if the idea of working directly with sophisticated machines and radiation equipment does interest you, then you might want to consider a career as a radiation therapist.
Radiation therapist jobs are straightforward but also quite delicate. The ability to safely handle the hazardous nature of the ionizing radiation used in cancer treatments makes these experts an important part of oncology teams.
Our guide will walk you through the most valuable information (job opportunities, prospects, duties, payment, etc.) to help you in your pursuit of a successful career in this area of expertise.
About Radiation Therapist Jobs
What Do Radiation Therapists Do?
A radiation therapist job description generally involves carrying out radiotherapy treatment as outlined by oncologists. It’s the responsibility of a radiotherapist to administer a patient’s daily radiation treatment using the necessary equipment. This is done according to the instructions of a chief oncologist. Radiotherapists carry out the treatment procedures outlined by oncologists’ reports, after simulation and planning have been completed.
Radiation Therapist Job Duties
Aside from carrying out the actual radiotherapy treatment, these jobs demand that the machines used throughout the procedure are properly maintained and in optimum condition before every use. Radiation therapist duties also include the following tasks:
- Elaborating treatment plans to patients and answering treatment-related questions that patients might have
- Ensuring that safety procedures are followed before and during every treatment to protect patients and health personnel present from overexposure to radiation
- Operating the equipment that will determine the exact location of the tumor or cancer in the body and therefore the focus of radiation treatment
- Looking out for unexpected or unusual reactions in a patient during treatment
- Keeping detailed records of every patient’s treatment
- Educating patients on radiation-induced side-effects and how to manage them
- Interacting with patients’ family, friends, and guardians, as well as with healthcare professionals involved in the treatment process.
Radiation Therapist Job Types
There are two major forms of radiotherapy a therapist may choose to specialize in, depending on their area of interest. They include external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy. Let’s take a closer look at them.
External Beam Radiotherapy
External radiotherapy, also known as teletherapy, is a painless procedure. It implies that the radiation used in the treatment of a patient comes from an outside source. Teletherapy is the most popular form of radiotherapy treatment found in healthcare facilities.
Some examples of external radiotherapy are:
- Conformal radiotherapy (CRT)
- Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
- Stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT)
- Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT).
Just as the name implies, of the existing radiation therapy jobs, this specific type involves placing radiation sources in the body. Those sources can be specific implants or liquids.
When implants (solid radioactive sources) are used to impact a tumor or cancer cells, it’s called brachytherapy. When the radioactive source used in treating a patient is administered in liquid form to strategic parts of the body, it’s called radioactive liquid treatment.
Essentially, any typical radiation therapist job will demand that an employee work in such healthcare settings where radiotherapy can be provided as part of patients’ treatments. Those places would mainly include cancer treatment centers, general medical and surgical hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, etc.
Being a radiotherapist involves a lot of standing, especially during an ongoing treatment session. Whether it involves performing diagnostic imaging exams, administering treatment, or assisting and lifting patients, these professionals spend most of their time performing physical tasks, as revealed by more than one radiation therapist job review.
Also, due to the nature of their work environment, radiation therapists have the responsibility of following different safety procedures to ensure minimal exposure to radiation. In most cases, radiation therapists work on a full-time basis, though part-time employment is also possible.
We did more research so we could pinpoint the industries that constitute the majority of radiation therapy jobs. The results showed the following stats for May 2019:
- General medical and surgical hospitals: 10,600
- Physicians’ offices: 4,460
- Outpatient care centers: 1,130
- Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals: 820
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: 230.
Injuries and Illnesses
There’s a risk of radiation exposure, despite the safety measures employed to prevent such scenarios. There’s also the issue of stress that comes with the job, due to its delicate nature and potential harm to human life with any slight error.
Radiation therapists jobs also involve spending most working hours lifting, pulling, pushing, twisting, scanning, and operating heavy radiation equipment. After years of work, these physical activities can sometimes lead to long term consequences (such as back pain) or injuries of various parts of the body.
Radiation therapy treatments take time to arrange. First, oncologists have to do their job of simulation and planning. Afterwards, radiologists have to develop a safe treatment plan (based on patients’ diagnoses established by oncologists) before the final phase is taken to a radiation therapist to carry out the actual procedure.
Due to the amount of time often involved in the radiotherapy process and the fact that such treatments require careful planning, these professionals have a regular work schedule, typically revolving round full-time employment.
How to Become a Radiation Therapist
Radiation therapist career advancement opportunities differ from those of an oncologist and radiologist. Keep on reading to find out what it takes to start and maintain a successful career in this field.
Radiation therapist jobs require their own set of characteristics and specialized skills (often technical) that can only be acquired after years of intense training and practice.
- Interpersonal skills: Understanding the feelings of a patient as they undergo radiotherapy treatment is highly significant. These skills also extend to monitoring the response of a patient to treatment and making necessary adjustments where possible.
- Observation and critical thinking skills: Entry-level radiation therapist jobs in particular require therapists to be observant during treatment processes to quickly identify abnormalities and make necessary amendments before any damage is done.
- Attention to detail: A slight increase in the exact amount of radiation needed to treat a patient may lead to health complications. Therefore, radiation therapists must pay undivided attention to all the details involved in the radiotherapy process.
- Physical strength: Radiation therapists are often engaged in various physical activities that have to do with lifting and moving patients or equipment during treatment.
- Technical skills: A typical radiation therapist job is a technologically driven one. As new advancements are made, you’re expected to be comfortable renewing your knowledge base, which will enable you to accommodate newer techniques and manage newer equipment used in treatment.
Radiation Therapist Education Requirements
To become a radiation therapist, you can enroll in an associate’s degree program, which takes two years to finish, or a bachelor’s degree program, which requires four years of dedicated learning. There are also certificate programs available, which take less time to complete, but also limit the likelihood of employment to a certain extent. Candidates who hold a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree in radiation therapy have more job opportunities, since radiation therapist employers prefer hiring them.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degree holders are taken through the rudiments and hands-on practicals as they relate to the job of a radiation therapist. So, if you wish to increase your chances of landing a job in this field, you might want to consider getting an associate’s or even a bachelor’s degree.
However, this is not an attempt to undermine the importance of certificate programs in any way, as there are different healthcare environments that require or accept such qualifications.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
As a radiation therapist, you need certification or licensing to be able to work in this profession in most states. Certification requirements vary from state to state, but often follow the same process, which includes passing a national certification exam.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the most widely recognized certifying body for radiation therapists. ARRT certifications require renewals every two years, when you’re required to attend a compulsory continuing education program.
Anyone who has successfully obtained their radiation therapist license is eligible to seek radiation therapist job opportunities in the field of radiotherapy, even without obtaining board certification. However, employers seem to pay more attention to this certification as it verifies an employee’s skills and knowledge have been tested.
Often, the certification process will require an individual to complete a certain amount of work hours (working full time for at least two years) before they’re considered eligible to take their certification exams. However, fresh associate’s degree holders wishing to obtain certification (without completing the working hours) would have to complete an accredited training program before they’re considered eligible to partake in the certification exams.
There are numerous radiation therapist job advancements for you to further and strengthen your career as a radiation therapist. One such option is to become a dosimetrist. Dosimetrists are medical professionals tasked with calculating the dose of radiation a patient will need in the treatment of cancer or a tumor. Dosimetrists work closely with oncologists and radiation therapists in administering the right treatment. Some therapists also choose to advance their career into administrative and management roles, such as that of a chief radiation therapist.
If you’re intent on becoming a radiation therapist, your salary will depend on several factors, such as your geographical location, employers, and work experience. However, previous research has shown that radiation therapists whose job falls under the medical and diagnostic laboratories industry earn slightly more than therapists working in hospitals and physicians’ offices.
In May 2019, the median radiation therapist jobs salary in different industries was as follows:
- Outpatient care centers (medical and diagnostic centers): $97,150
- Physicians’ offices: $87,620
- State, local, and private hospitals: $83,900.
While the bottom 10% earned less than $59,280 annually, the top 10% earned over $128,630.
Radiation Therapist Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment rate for radiation therapists could grow faster than average (when compared with other industries), with a 7% growth projected between 2019 and 2029. The growing numbers of cancer-affected patients and advancements in radiotherapy treatments are some of the major contributing factors to the increase in these job openings.
Radiation Therapist Job Prospects
Radiation therapist job vacancies are far more likely to be filled by people with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in any related radiotherapy course and field of work rather than by those who don’t have it. As mentioned, the aging population will lead to bigger numbers of cancer patients, resulting in a greater demand for these professionals.
How long does it take to be a radiation therapist?
It depends mainly on what degree you wish to pursue. If you want to achieve a bachelor’s degree as a radiation therapist, you need to complete a four-year degree program before obtaining your license and certification. All of these should take a maximum of five years, since you have to sit a certification exam, which takes time to prepare.
Pursuing an associate’s degree as a radiotherapist requires two years. When this is combined with the task of obtaining your license and certification, you might be looking at approximately three years of schooling. Those who seek a diploma course as a radiotherapist can get their diploma in a year, with licensing and certification taking another year.
Is it hard to become a radiation therapist?
It depends on your definition of hard. If you’re technically savvy, good at math, physics, and calculations in general, then you can handle becoming a radiation therapist.
Let us also not forget the quality of flexibility. As new advancements in technology arise in the field of radiotherapy, you’re expected to update your knowledge on new machinery, software, and radiation equipment necessary for your day-to-day work.
Where do radiation therapists make the most money?
Radiation therapists in the outpatient care industry seem to make the most money. In 2019, their median annual salary reached $97,150.
Is radiation therapy a good career choice?
This particular career pays an average of $85,560 yearly—significantly more than what an average American earns annually ($44,720). Hence, it’s safe to say that it’s an excellent career choice, provided that you can cope with the daily tasks and challenges that come with the profession.
Radiation therapist jobs have their advantages and disadvantages. However, there’s no doubt that it’s a huge career opportunity for those who are technically astute, have the flexibility to tolerate change, and can bear the level of responsibility that comes with this job.