Radiation Therapist

Chief Radiation Therapist (Chief RT)   More Names
Computed Tomography Simulation Therapist (CT Simulation Therapist), Dosimetrist, Lead Radiation Therapist, Medical Dosimetrist, Radiation Therapist, Radiation Therapists, Radiation Therapy Technician, Radiation Therapy Technologist (RTT), Radiologic Therapist, Radiology Therapist, Registered Radiation Therapist, Senior Radiation Therapist, Staff Radiation Therapist

Provide radiation therapy to treat cancer in the human body under the direction of a radiation oncologist (a cancer treatment physician). Use machines called linear accelerators to target and administer prescribed, controlled doses of radiation to cancerous cells and tumors in tissues and organs.

Accurately position patient for treatment based on prescription. Review patient chart and identification before proceeding with radiation dosage. Check radiation equipment to ensure proper operation and follow all radiation protection and safety and procedures for patient, self, and others.

Radiation therapists work primarily in hospitals. A smaller number are employed by outpatient care centers and medical and diagnostic laboratories. Some of the hospitals in which they work are run by local, state, or federal government agencies.

Radiation therapists work under the immediate direction of a radiation oncologist (a physician specialized in the treatment of cancer) and in close consultation with medical physicists (specialists who calibrate linear accelerators) and medical dosimetrists (specialists who calculate radiation dose) - the oncology radiation team. They also are often a member of the broader medical oncology healthcare team that can include nurses, nutritionists, social workers, psychiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, clergy, hospice workers, and other medical providers as well as the patient and their family.

Linear accelerators are the principal cancer treatment tool used by radiation therapists. Linear accelerators are most commonly used in a procedure called external beam therapy, which projects high-energy x-rays at targeted cancer cells. As the X-rays collide with human tissue, they produce highly energized ions that can shrink and eliminate cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy is sometimes used as the sole treatment for cancer, but it is often used in combination with hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery.

Before treatment begins, the oncology radiation team has to develop a treatment plan. To develop this plan, the radiation therapist first uses medical images to pinpoint the location of the cancerous tumor. Next the oncologist, medical physicist, and medical dosimetrist determine the best way to administer treatment. The radiation therapist then notes how to carry out the plan using patient positioning and targeting adjustments to the linear accelerator. They also explain the treatment plan to the patient and answer any questions.

When the radiation therapy treatment session begins, the radiation therapist uses the guidelines developed during the planning phase to position the patient and adjust the linear accelerator. From a separate room protected from X-ray radiation, they then operate the linear accelerator and monitor the patient's condition by using a video monitor and intercom system.

Each treatment session typically lasts from 10 to 30 minutes during which the radiation therapist carefully notes the amount of radiation being delivered. They also will monitor a patient's physical condition to see if there is any adverse reaction and be aware of their emotional well-being, since some patients will be under stress.

Radiation therapists keep detailed notes and records of each patient's treatment session. These records include information on the total amount of radiation delivered to date and overall patient reactions. They also record patient and positioning measurements so that these can be used again during follow-up treatment sessions. This is important since a treatment plan using beam radiation can often involve 30 to 40 individual treatment sessions. These notes and records are then shared with the entire oncology radiation team who review them to ensure that the treatment plan is working effectively.

While radiation hazards exist in this occupation, they are minimized by the use of the separate shielding room during treatments and by instruments monitoring exposure to radiation. Radiation therapists also wear badges that measure radiation levels in the area and keep detailed records on their cumulative lifetime dose.

Radiation therapists need good communication skills because their work involves a great deal of interaction with patients. Individuals interested in becoming radiation therapists should be psychologically capable of working with cancer patients. They should be caring and empathetic because they will work with patients who are ill and under stress. They should be able to keep accurate, detailed records. They also should be physically fit because they work on their feet for long periods and lift and move disabled patients.

With additional training and certification, radiation therapists may decide to become a medical dosimetrist who uses mathematical formulas to calculate proper radiation doses. Alternatively, the occupation of a radiation therapist can be a next step-up on the radiography career ladder for a radiologic technologist who decides to pursue additional education to become a radiation therapist.

Credentials Needed: The majority of states require radiation therapists to be licensed. Requirements vary among the states, but typically applicants for licensure must be at least 18 years of age, pass a criminal background check, and meet the educational and testing requirements set by the state in which they intend to practice. Many states also include passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam for radiation therapists as a licensing condition. More information regarding this certification is available on the ARRT website under ARRT Certification.

The ARRT lists contact information for the states that require licensure for radiation therapists on its website under ARRT State Licensing. In states that do not require ARRT certification as part of the licensure process, attainment of this credential is voluntary although still highly valued by employers.

Some Key Things to Remember: Radiation therapists perform radiation therapy to treat cancer n the human body under the direction of a radiation oncologist (a cancer treatment physician). They use machines called linear accelerators to target and administer prescribed, controlled doses of radiation to cancerous cells and tumors in tissues and organs. A two-year associate's degree in radiation therapy from an accredited postsecondary education and training program is the most common form of education attainment for entry-level radiation therapists, with a number earning a four-year bachelor's degree. The majority of states require radiation therapists to be licensed.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
14% - Average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $64,630 - $100,800    Hourly: $31 - $48
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

Legal Requirements
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Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

14% - Average
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Typical Wages:

Annual: $64,630 - $100,800

Hourly: $31 - $48