Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Duties

Radiation therapists typically do the following:

  • Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
  • Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure to radiation
  • Examine machines to make sure they are safe and working properly
  • X ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
  • Check computer programs to make sure the machine will give the correct dose of radiation to the appropriate area of the patient's body
  • Operate the machine to treat the patient with radiation
  • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
  • Keep detailed records of treatment

Machines called linear accelerators are used to deliver radiation therapy. These machines direct high-energy x rays at specific cancer cells in a patient's body, shrinking or removing them. 

Radiation therapists are part of the oncology team that treats patients with cancer. They often work with the following specialists:

  • Radiation oncologists, physicians who specialize in radiation therapy
  • Oncology nurses, registered nurses who specialize in caring for patients with cancer
  • Radiation physicists, physicists who calibrate linear accelerators

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Work Environment

Radiation therapists held about 19,100 jobs in 2012. Most therapists work in hospitals, offices of physicians, and outpatient centers.

Radiation therapists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients. Because they work with radiation and radioactive material, radiation therapists must follow safety procedures to make sure that they are not exposed to a potentially harmful amount of radiation. These procedures usually require therapists to stand in a different room while the patient undergoes radiation procedures.                                   

Work Schedules

Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

Education and Training

Most radiation therapists complete programs that lead to an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

Education

Although candidates may qualify by completing a 12-month certificate program, employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. These programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed; requirements vary by state. To be licensed, radiation therapists must graduate from an accredited radiation therapy program and be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To become ARRT certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education.

Advancement

Experienced radiation therapists may advance to manage radiation therapy programs in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Managers generally continue to treat patients while taking on managerial responsibilities. Other advancement opportunities include teaching, technical sales, and research. With additional training and certification, therapists can become dosimetrists. Dosimetrists are responsible for calculating the correct dose of radiation that is used in the treatment of cancer patients.

Personality and Interests

Radiation therapists typically have an interest in the Building, Helping and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Helping or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a radiation therapist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Radiation therapists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Detail oriented. Radiation therapists must follow exact instructions and input exact measurements to make sure the patient is exposed to the correct amount of radiation.

Interpersonal skills. Radiation therapists work closely with patients. It is important that therapists be comfortable interacting with people who may be going through physical and emotional stress.

Physical stamina. Radiation therapists must be able to be on their feet for long periods and be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

Technical skills. Radiation therapists work with computers and large pieces of technological equipment, so they must be comfortable operating those devices.

Pay

The median annual wage for radiation therapists was $77,560 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,720, and the top 10 percent earned more than $113,810.

Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

Job Outlook

Employment of radiation therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,500 new jobs over the 10-year period.

The risk of cancer increases as people age, so an aging population will increase demand for radiation therapists. Early diagnosis and the development of more sophisticated treatment techniques will also increase employment.

For More Information

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at help@truity.com.

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).