Radiation therapists are necessary members of an interdisciplinary team of medical professionals and oncologists working to treat patients with cancer. As one of the most common treatments for cancer, the demand for qualified radiation therapists is high. For example, a 2017 report of radiation therapy trends projects that 3.38 million cancer survivors in the United States will receive radiation therapy in 2020, with that number increasing to 4.17 million by 2030. Advances in radiation therapy, and an aging population, increase the need of qualified individuals to fill radiation therapy jobs. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need to fill radiation therapy jobs will grow by nine percent between 2018 and 2028. This is a much higher growth rate than the national average for all occupations.
What is a Radiation Therapist?
A radiation therapist is a member of a team responsible for the treatment of cancer. Working with oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology nurses, radiation physicists, dosimetrists, social workers and dietitians, radiation therapists help to develop a treatment plan for cancer and other diseases. The radiation therapist works directly with the patient and monitors the patient’s condition during treatment. Using specialized equipment, radiation therapists administer the prescribed dose of radiation to specific areas of the body.
Radiation therapists work in a variety of medical settings. While many are hospital or cancer center based, they may also work in clinics and physicians’ offices. As allied health professionals, radiation therapists are certified technologists that provide treatment directly to patients.
Radiation Therapist Job Description
A radiation therapist job description includes technical aspects of machine operation and radiation administration, but it also includes a personal touch. In addition to the technical aspects of the job, radiation therapists are often the ones providing support to nervous patients during a very frightening experience. Having a kind heart and the ability to make someone feel comfortable is an essential part of what makes a good radiation therapist.
In addition, a radiation therapist job description can include the following:
- Explain the procedure to patients and help make them comfortable
- Examine radiation machines to ensure they are safe and working correctly
- Adhere to strict safety procedures regarding exposure for both the radiation therapist and patient
- Perform x-rays of the patient in order to determine the exact location of radiation treatment
- Program the machines with the prescribed dose of radiation for the prescribed area
- Position patients for treatment
- Administer the prescribed dose of radiation and monitor the patient for adverse reactions during treatment
- Maintain detailed patient treatment records
Radiation Therapist Degree and Certification
Radiation therapy degree and certification requirements vary by state. However, in order to sit for the national certification exam by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), individuals must complete a minimum of an associate degree in an accredited radiation therapy program. While an associate degree is the minimum, many hospitals and cancer centers across the country require a bachelor’s degree for employment. Both degree programs include general study as well as practical experience in hospital and imaging centers. Bachelor’s degree programs include more advanced training, such as dosimetry and radiation physics. This extensive additional training is why so many employers prefer or require a bachelor’s degree.
Once an individual completes their accredited degree program and meets the ethical standards of AART, they can sit for the AART radiation therapy certification. The examination includes 200 questions broken down into these three main categories:
- Patient Care – This section of the exam includes 47 questions that cover everything from patient’s rights to allergic reactions, infection control and patient positioning.
- Safety – This section asks 49 questions covering topics such as properties of radiation, quality control, biological effects of radiation and radiation tissue tolerance.
- Procedures – This is the main section of the exam and includes 104 questions. Topics covered include treatment sites and tumors, tumor classification, treatment volume localization, prescription and dose calculations and treatment options.
Passing this exam certifies and registers an individual with AART as a radiation therapist. However, in order to work in many states, individuals may also require a state license. Every state is different. While AART awards general registration and credentials, they also administer state licensing exams for many states. Once individuals receive their AART credentials, they must contact their state to determine licensing requirements and the application process.
Radiation Therapist Salary
A radiation therapist salary varies by state and medical facility. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median pay for a radiation therapist in 2018 was $82,330 per year ($39.58/hr). They also report differences in average salaries based on industry location. For example, radiation therapists working in general hospital settings make an average of $85,720 while those working in specialty hospitals our outpatient care centers average $91,360 and $94,350 respectively.
Location also contributes to the average radiation therapist salary. For example, California is the top paying state for radiation therapists, with an average annual wage of $114,280. New Jersey comes in second with an average wage of $107,850. Oregon, Connecticut and Washington round out the top five states, all paying over $100,000.
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- “29-1124 Radiation Therapists.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29 Mar. 2019, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291124.htm#st.
- Bryant, Alex K., et al. “Trends in Radiation Therapy among Cancer Survivors in the United States, 2000–2030.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 17 Jan. 2017, https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/early/2017/05/03/1055-9965.EPI-16-1023.full.pdf
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- “Primary Eligibility Pathway Requirements.” Primary Requirements, www.arrt.org/earn-arrt-credentials/requirements/primary-requirements.
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- “Radiation Therapy.” Radiation Therapy, www.arrt.org/earn-arrt-credentials/credential-options/radiation-therapy.
- “Radiation Therapy Examination.” American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), Jan. 2017, www.arrt.org/docs/default-source/discipline-documents/radiation-therapy/thr-content-specifications.pdf?sfvrsn=88de01fc_18.
- “Recognized Accreditation Agencies.” ARRT, www.arrt.org/earn-arrt-credentials/requirements/primary-requirements/education-requirements-primary/arrt-recognized-accreditation-agencies.