Radiation Therapist Careers

Radiation therapists, like many others employed in a vocational position in the medical field, are a crucial asset to an oncology team.

They are formally trained to deliver significant doses of radiation to targeted regions in a patient’s body to shrink or remove cancers and tumors.

By administering radiation treatments, radiation therapists are not only helping patients fight cancer or other diseases, but they are also potentially helping them live a healthy life. For a radiation therapist to administer radiation treatments, they use advanced medical machines called linear accelerators, or LINAC. They are required to get the appropriate education, licenses and certifications from their state to receive approval to work in the field. Radiation therapists work in many settings, but the most common are hospitals, physician offices and outpatient healthcare centers. As long as advancements in medicine and technology continue to increase lifespans and improve the quality of living for patients, there will always be a need for radiation therapists. However, to be considered a top candidate, potential radiation therapists need to know all they can about radiation therapy.

What role does a radiation therapist play on an oncology team?

Since radiation therapists are part of an oncology team, they often work with many specialists in the healthcare industry. These specialized health care professionals include radiation oncologists, oncology nurses and medical physicists. While they work with many different health care professionals, radiation therapists are the ones that administer the radiation therapy. Before a radiation therapist administers treatment, he or she must have a consultation with the patient. Due to this requirement, they must be comfortable around patients who may be dealing with the emotions and physical stress of living with potentially terminal diseases. Radiation therapists need to know how to discuss sensitive information and maintain a sense of professionalism. During these consultations, they will explain the treatment plan and answer any questions that the patient may have about the procedure.

Once a radiation therapist has determined the precise location that needs to be treated, they will administer the treatment. Radiation therapists do so by operating advanced machines that deliver a specific amount of radiation to the infected area of a patient’s tumor. Radiation therapists work with large pieces of medical equipment, which they must feel comfortable operating. Anyone in this career must follow precise and detailed instructions and make sure that they input the right measurements. Errors can expose patients to the wrong dose of radiation. After the procedure is complete, they must keep thorough records of the patient’s treatment and monitor patients frequently to check for any concerning reactions to the radiation treatment.

What are the education requirements to become a radiation therapist?

To become a radiation therapist, you will need to obtain an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. However, some employers accept applicants who have completed a certification program. When contemplating your potential level of education for this career path, you may want to consider completing the bachelor or associate’s degree when possible. Many employers prefer candidates with higher levels of education, so a certificate may not be as competitive, especially if your area has a high concentration of applicants in the same field. If you register for a radiation therapy program, you can expect to take courses in a classroom and in a clinical setting.

Do radiation therapists need to be licensed?

In most states, radiation therapists must be either certified or licensed. Most states prefer applicants who have graduated from an accredited radiation therapy program and who are certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (AART). While the requirements vary by state, you can expect that you will need to take and pass a national certification exam. Depending on the employer who hires you, you may be required to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS).

What is the job outlook for radiation therapists?

Over the next decade, employment of radiation therapists is expected to increase. As people begin to age, so will the number of people with cancer, resulting in an increase in the demand for radiation therapists. In addition, as advancement in medical technology and machines continue, the demand for radiation therapy and for professionals to perform the treatment will increase. Nevertheless, although the outlook for radiation therapists is projected to grow, so will the number of students who graduate from radiation therapy programs. For applicants to stand out, it will help if they have more education, such as a bachelor’s degree, or related health certifications. Prior work experience in positions like patient care also looks good to potential employers.

When it comes to compensation, radiation therapists who work in local, state and private hospitals have the highest annual salary, followed by outpatient care centers and physician’s offices. The current median wage for a radiation therapist is close to $80,000. The median wage is defined as the wage “in the middle,” meaning that half of the workers earned below this amount and that the other half earned above.

What is the work environment for radiation therapists?

The largest employer for radiation therapists is currently local, state and private hospitals. Followed by physician’s offices, self-employment and outpatient care centers. Most radiation therapists work full-time and keep a regular schedule, as many patients plan their procedures in advance. A career as a radiation therapist may be taxing physically, since they generally are on their feet for an extended period. Additionally, those employed as a radiation therapist may need to perform physical labor move or adjust patients who have cannot move or need help turning.

Although work as a radiation therapist relatively has few risks, there is a large one that needs to be addressed. Exposure to large quantities of radiation and radiation materials can be harmful to not just patients, but also to the radiation therapist administering the treatment. If a radiation therapist treats patients for several years, they must be sure to follow all safety protocols to avoid access exposure to radiation. Typically, radiation therapists position themselves in a separate room from the patient who is undergoing radiation treatment to limit their exposure. However, as long as workers take safety precautions, those employed as radiation therapists can live a healthy life free of exposure to radiation.

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