Radiation therapy is a life-saving treatment for different kinds of cancers and diseases. A radiation therapist performs radiation therapy. They assist in the treatment of cancers and other diseases by administering this specialized form of therapy.
To do the job, you need certain skills and training. This article discusses how to become a radiation therapist. We talk about the radiation therapist career path and what steps you need to take. What degree do you need for radiation therapist jobs and is there a major in radiation therapy?
Read on to learn more about the steps to becoming a radiation therapist.
Radiation Therapy Career
A radiation therapist works in hospitals, outpatient facilities, and physician offices. They help administer radiation treatments to patients with cancer or diseases. Their specialized training helps them know how to operate machines that deliver radiation into a patient’s body. They also run x-ray machines and high-tech computer programs.
Radiation therapists work alongside doctors, such as a radiation oncologist. They follow radiation treatment plans that physicians, and other medical professionals, oversee. But they are responsible for patient care. They must ensure machines are safe for patients. They also answer questions about radiation treatments.
Where Radiation Therapists Work
When you become a therapist there are three large employers where you can find work. These employers offer the most radiation therapist jobs. A radiation therapy major can find radiation therapist jobs in:
- Outpatient centers
- Physician offices
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports hospitals as the largest employer for radiation therapists. BLS radiation therapist jobs in local, state, and private hospitals account for about 65% of all radiation therapists. 25% work in physician offices. 5% work in outpatient care centers.
What Degree Do You Need to be a Radiation Therapist?
Aspiring radiation therapists complete a two-year (associate degree) or four-year degree (bachelor’s degree). They need an associate degree or bachelor’s degree to work as a radiation therapist. Most states also require licensing or certification to treat patients. We discuss how to get licensed or certified later in the article.
Employers look for candidates with an earned college degree from accredited radiation therapy programs. Some hire those with an associate’s degree, while others prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree.
Best Radiation Therapist Major
For those seeking a four-year degree to work as a radiation therapist, there are different majors you can choose. Some colleges offer radiation therapy programs, but other’s don’t. So, which major can help you on your radiation therapy career path?
Biochemistry or Biophysics
When you major in biochemistry or biophysics, you study the sciences behind radiation therapy. You study matter, chemicals, and how their properties interact. Put simply, you study the chemistry or physics behind living things.
So, how does this major help you become a radiation therapist? Because you gain knowledge in foundational sciences. This knowledge helps you in treatment planning and your medical knowledge. You can carry this knowledge with you into your radiation oncology career.
To become a radiation therapist you need a science foundation. One science that prepares radiation therapy students is biology. In a biology program, you study living things like:
You learn how to conduct lab work and research. You also take many foundational science and math courses that can help you in your career path as a radiation therapist.
A health sciences major is flexible and versatile. It is a good major for students planning a long-term career in radiologic technology. The major provides essential healthcare knowledge you can use in clinical procedures or treatment plans. A bachelor’s degree in health sciences can also build on the knowledge you gained in your associate degree program.
A Bachelor of Science degree in Radiation Therapy takes four years to complete. You won’t find the degree at every school, but it is available. You can also earn an associate degree in radiation therapy. But the BS degree will give you the most bang for your buck. Employers value the four-year degree.
A radiation therapy program can teach you about:
- Clinical procedures
- Internal radiation therapy
- Radiation protection and safety measures
- Radiation treatments
- The treatment of cancer patients
- Working with radioactive materials
Science technologies or science technologies technicians is a unique major offered by a select number of colleges and universities. In this major, you learn how to apply scientific principles and technical skills to support research. You take classes in genetic technology and cell culturing. You also study hazardous material safety. What you learn can help you become a successful radiation therapist.
Courses Radiation Therapist Students Should Take
Students in accredited radiation therapy programs can expect to take science and math courses. Good classes to take as you plan to become a radiation therapist include:
- Computer science
In a radiation therapist program, you can plan on taking courses that cover medical terminology and cancer pathology. You also take radiation therapy physics. Some courses focus on specific radiation treatment, while others emphasize best practices for patients undergoing treatments. You can also plan on taking safety courses that teach you how to handle radiation.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?
The length of time it takes to become a radiation therapist depends on the degree program you choose. An associate’s degree takes less time to earn than a bachelor’s degree. If you want to get an associate’s degree, you can do it in two years. But plan on taking three to four years for a BS or BA degree.
You should also add a year on to your educational pathway for certification and licensing. A certified radiation therapist is ready for work in three years with an associate’s degree and certification. But most radiation therapists with a two-year degree work in supporting roles. They don’t have the agency that a radiation therapist with a four-year degree has.
Licenses and Certifications
In most states, a radiation therapist needs certification or licensing to practice. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (ARRT) offers the ARRT certification or credential. To become ARRT-certified, you complete an accredited radiation therapy program. Once you graduate, you can register to complete the ARRT examination. Passing the exam is a major step in becoming a radiation therapist.
States require radiation therapists take the ARRT exam. You take the exam in a single day. But it takes months to prepare for the test. You have three years from when you complete your educational requirements to apply for ARRT certification.
The ARRT Exam
To pass the certification exam, you need to know certain clinical concepts in radiation oncology. You should also understand both treatment delivery and planning. Certain topics are on the exam. Your school or program can help you prepare if you’re enrolled in a radiation therapy program. Content topics include:
- Breast sonography
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine technology
- Radiation therapy
- Other radiation treatment programs
How to become a radiation therapist in California?
Most states want radiation therapists to have certification. California is no different. You must be AART-certified to practice in the state. You also need a minimum of a two-year associate’s degree.
But you also need patient care experience to work as a radiation therapist in California. You need 24 hours of career observation in a radiation oncology department.
Ongoing Education for Radiation Therapists
To continue working in radiation treatment, radiation therapists must renew their certification by completing education requirements. You must meet CE or continuing education requirements every two years.
Continuing qualification requirements (CQR) renew every 10 years. These can include certification renewals. Renewal requirements vary by state.
Skills and Traits Successful Radiation Therapists Have
There are certain skills and traits that successful radiation therapists have. These skills help radiation therapists, radiation oncologists, and radiologic technologists succeed on the job.
Radiation therapists must pay attention to details. They follow precise instructions sent to them from medical professionals. They input exact measurements into machines and ensure patient safety. To carry out the important tasks of a radiation therapist, precision is key. Radiation therapists are precise in what they do.
Radiation therapists work with patients. To do so, they must have good interpersonal skills. Radiation therapists should show empathy. They should be professional and caring, especially during times of stress. They must communicate instructions in a calm and effective way, helping their patients manage emotional and physical stress.
Radiation therapists are on their feet for most of their shifts. They move patients into wheelchairs and onto tables. Due to the physical nature of the job, you need stamina.
Radiation therapists operate complicated machinery and devices that administer radiation. Strong technical skills help radiation therapists work computers and other pieces of technological equipment used in the field.
Salary for Radiation Therapists
Whether you work in cancer treatment centers or as part of an oncology team, you can earn a good wage as a radiation therapist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiation therapists earn a median annual wage of $82,790. The highest 10% of earners in this occupation make over $128,000/year.
High-Paying Industries for Radiation Therapy
Certain industries offer radiation therapists higher wages. Certified radiation therapists who treat patients in outpatient care centers earn the highest salaries. In outpatient facilities, radiation therapists earn over $121,000/year. Other high-paying industries include:
- Physician offices: $82,540/year (average salary for radiation therapists)
- Hospitals: $81,050/year (average salary for radiation therapists)
An outpatient center is an ambulatory clinic. Patients receive preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services that do not need overnight stays. It is in these facilities that radiation therapists, radiologic technologists, and other professionals earn the highest wages.
High-Paying States for Radiation Therapists
Geographic location also impacts pay for radiation therapists. This means where you live matters. Top-paying states for radiation therapists include:
- California: $141,910
- New York: $133,820
- Washington: $129,850
- Oregon: $111,750
- Massachusetts: $109,420
High-Paying Cities for Radiation Therapists
Top-paying metropolitan areas for radiation therapists include:
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $174,910
- Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, California: $166,350
- San Diego-Carlsbad, California: $142,330
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California: $134,580
- New York City, New York: $133,190
Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon also rank high for top-paying metro cities.
High-Paying Non-Metro Areas for Radiation Therapists
Non-metro areas also rank high for top-paying locations. The BLS reports 3 top-paying non-metropolitan areas. These include:
- Kansas non-metro: $77,910
- Southeast Missouri: $76,430
- Northeastern Wisconsin: $74,610
Other Factors that Affect Earnings
Years of experience working as a radiation therapist affects earnings. The more experience you have, the higher earnings you will make. Recent college graduates have little to no experience on the job. If you can land an internship or complete volunteer work, this can help you showcase experience to a potential employer. Working alongside a professor conducting research can also help.
Radiation Therapist Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth for radiation therapist jobs over the next decade. As a radiation therapist, you can expect a 6% job growth through at least 2031.
While growth should result, competition remains. Candidates for radiation therapist jobs should face stiff competition for openings with hospitals and outpatient centers. Recent college graduates should have a four-year degree from an accredited college and the right certifications and licenses for the best job prospects. A bachelor’s degree can give you an edge over other candidates with an associate degree.
Why can radiation therapists expect job growth?
The main reason is because of the aging population. Baby boomers live longer lives. As a result, incidence for disease, such as cancer, increases.
Now is a good time to study radiation therapy because of the growing demand for radiation therapists. Continued advancements and new treatment techniques also make way for new jobs. With a good job outlook, now is a good time to research radiation therapy programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the typical work schedule for a radiation therapist?
Radiation therapists work closely with doctors and other medical professionals. They work 40 hours per week, on average. But unlike other medical staff, they work during the day. There are, however, instances when radiation therapists report outside their normal hours. This happens during emergency situations.
What are the advancement opportunities for a radiation therapist?
You do not have as many career opportunities with an associate degree as you do with a four-year degree. But you can still find work in radiation therapy with an associate’s degree. For the best job prospects, you should earn a four-year degree and get certified. If you want management radiation therapist jobs, you should plan to earn a BS degree.
What are the working conditions for a radiation therapist?
As mentioned above, a radiation therapist works 40 hours per week. They work in hospitals and treatment centers. The job includes treatment planning and and operating radiologic technology.
Because radiation therapists work with radiation, they must know safety procedures. Unsafe practices can lead to exposure to harmful radiation levels. Most radiation oncology treatments take place in a different room. The patient stays in one room while the radiation therapist administers radioactive materials from another room.
What is a radiation treatment?
A radiation therapist uses radiation therapy to treat cancer or another disease. A radiation treatment is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. Radiation treatments help patients heal from the diseases attacking their bodies. Medical professionals rely on the treatment plans set in place by a radiation oncology team to treat patients.
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