As a radiation therapist, you’ll have to work with radiologists when it comes time to implement plans that patients need to adhere to. This means administering radiation therapy under the watchful eye of both radiologists as well as oncologists.
Radiation therapists are medical professionals that will need to follow the same regulations that are in place for the entire medical professional community. You’ll most likely find yourself working in either a hospital, out-patient facilities, or physician’s offices.
Radiation therapists will be expected to use machinery that is designed for radiation treatments or cancer patients. These patients will need to be monitored as they undergo their procedures. Their records will also need to be shared with other medical personnel that are all working with the same patient.
In order to become a radiation therapist, you would need to earn a certificate or a degree for radiation therapy. There are other requirements needed, too, like having a current CPR certification from a reputable association like the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.
Once you’ve earned your certificate or degree, you’ll also have to obtain your state’s license for practicing radiation therapy in your area. Depending on your state, you may also have other licensing requirements, so you’ll have to do some research to find out if it’s something you need to worry about.
To even get started in working with radiation therapy, all candidates need to have at minimum a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on your background, you might also be able to submit a couple of years of math and science as your prerequisites. You’ll have to check and see if CPR certification is also required, but typically, it is a requirement.
Some schools also require letters of recommendation from previous teachers, professors, or professional colleagues. Have them ready because if you don’t, you may delay starting your education while you’re waiting to receive the letters.
Going Through the Training
A variety of radiation therapy programs are available through many different colleges. You have the choice of going the certificate route or pursuing a degree. Depending on what you choose, you can spend anywhere from one year to four years earning your credential.
Inside of the coursework, you’re going to have to complete clinical practice at approved medical facilities. Often, the school that you’re attending is partnered with other medical facilities to give you the opportunity to conduct your clinical practice.
After you complete the program, you’ll need to sit for the licensing exam. You can’t practice radiation therapy without getting licensed by whatever state you’re in if it is required. Once you pass your exam, you can begin applying for entry-level radiation therapist positions.
Becoming Licensed and Certified
You’ll have to check with your state requirements to see what licensing and certification obligations need to be fulfilled. Typically, you would need to pass an exam that is administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Pay special attention to the requirements set forth by the ARRT because they have some fairly high standards. They expect that individuals desiring to become radiation therapists fulfill what they call the Equation for Excellence.
Eligibility for taking the exam falls into these three categories under their Equation. The categories are Education, Ethics, and Examination. In order to qualify to take the exam, you must have attended an accredited institution for your education. When you take the examination, you must pass in order for them to consider granting you your license. You’ll also have to adhere to their strict ethical requirements.
From there, you would go forth to see what certifications are required by your state. Many demand that you pass a state exam to practice in that state. At that point, you would also need to expect that you will continue your education by continually getting updated on the latest skills.
Continuing education is a critical facet of any medical professional and is often required in order to be able to renew your certifications or licenses. This varies from state to state as well, so you’ll need to verify what is required of you in your state.
Time to Find a Job
So you’ve completed your education. Now what? Your next step is going to be to find a job as a radiation therapist. You may be able to go through your school for assistance. Many schools offer career assistance to help you find your first job.
If your school does not offer that as an option, then you will need to peruse different job sites and medical facility job openings to find positions that you can apply to. You do have another option available to you as well.
As a radiation therapist, you can also choose to specialize in a specific field as opposed to being a general radiation therapist. In other words, you can specialize in oncology or treating the elderly. In order to specialize, you will need to seek out additional programs that you’ll have to complete.
Places to find these jobs include state, local, and private hospitals and physicians’ offices. You may even find opportunities to be self-employed as a radiation therapist. Be aware that taking a position means that you’ll be working full-time, too.
The Duties You Can Expect
Radiation therapists have several duties and responsibilities that can only be done by a licensed and certified therapist. Here is a quick list of some of the things you can expect to have to do as a radiation therapist.
- Explain proper treatment plans to your patients and be prepared to answer questions about why that plan has been chosen. If you are unsure for any reason, you can refer to the radiation oncologists, oncology nurses, or other medical physicists that are all part of the overall treatment plan.
- Be able to protect everyone that you work with from improper radiation exposure. That means you’ll need to protect the patient, yourself, and anyone else as necessary from being exposed to unnecessary radiation.
- You’ll be responsible for locating tumors that need to be treated. Determining the treatment area is crucial in administering the correct treatment.
- Expect to operate and maintain radiation machinery to keep treatments safe and effective for the patients receiving them.
- Have a pleasant bedside manner that includes ongoing monitoring of your patients. Follow-up is critical so that you will recognize any detrimental reactions that your patient may feel as a result of the treatment. If there are any unusually adverse reactions, you’ll need to modify treatment accordingly.
- You will have to know how to pay attention to detail. Records need to be extremely detailed that way if treatment needs to be transferred, it can happen as seamlessly as possible. Having the proper documentation will also save you if someone were to come after you in the future because of something they claim you did or didn’t do regarding treatment to themselves or loved ones.
Expected Salaries for Radiation Therapists
The latest information is going to be on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Currently, the average pay for a radiation therapist is around $80k per year. In an entry-level radiation therapist position, you can expect between $50k-$60k to start.
If you plan on staying in this field, with experience and time, you can eventually earn as much as around $120k per year depending on location, specialization, and other factors. The job outlook is also promising as it is expected to grow as much as 13% by 2026.
A Few Last Words
Education is only the beginning of what you’ll need to become a radiation therapist. You’ll need to be friendly and able to set people at ease. You may find that your patients are nervous about their treatment, potential side effects, and other issues. Your voice may be the one that needs to calm them down.
Radiation therapists play a significant part in patient treatment and work with others to complete the treatment plan. Take your education seriously and put real effort into what you’re doing, and you can be ready to make a positive impact in the world once you meet all of the requirements to get you on your way.