Pros and Cons of a Dosimetrist Career
Dosimetrists are part of a radiation oncology team that works together to treat cancer patients with radiation therapy. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a dosimetrist is right for you:
|Pros of a Dosimetrist Career|
|Higher-than-average salary ($106,194 was the 2015 median salary)***|
|High-growth field (24% increase from 2012 through 2022)*|
|Opportunities to participate in research**|
|Few on-call or evening hours*|
|Cons of a Dosimetrist Career|
|Risk of radiation exposure*|
|Possible licensure requirements*|
|Work requires advanced math skills*|
|Minimum education of bachelor's degree**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Medical Dosimetrists, ***Salary.com
Essential Career Info
Dosimetrists usually work in hospitals or cancer treatment centers. They typically work a traditional 40-hour week, though you could have a few on-call hours in case of radiation therapy emergencies. Working with radiation carries risks, so you need to take the necessary precautions and pay strict attention to the safety procedures. Dosimetrists work with computers and make complex math calculations to determine a radiation dosage that will not only treat a cancerous tumor but also lessen the radiation's impact on surrounding organs. In addition to determining the correct radiation dosage, it's also necessary to keep detailed records to track a patient's progress to determine if adjustments in treatment are needed.
Job Prospects and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 24% increase in employment for radiation therapists in the decade from 2012-2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). This increase will be due mostly to an aging population's need for cancer treatment. With advances in radiation therapy, there will be a demand for dosimetrists who understand the latest developments in cancer treatment and who keep up with current research in the field. Salary.com reported in September 2015 that the 10th-90th percentile of dosimetrists made wages in the range of $89,000-$123,000.
Education and Licensure Requirements
In order to become a dosimetrist, you could enroll in a formal training program offered by colleges and hospitals. To enter the typically year-long program, you need to have completed a bachelor's degree, usually with a major in biology or a similar field. The programs may have certain course prerequisites, such as human anatomy, calculus or physics. There are also some bachelor's degree programs in medical dosimetry available that combine traditional undergraduate coursework with dosimetry courses and clinical rotations. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accredits certificate, bachelor's and master's programs.
You can also begin work as a dosimetrist with on-the-job training through a hospital or cancer treatment center's radiation oncology department. You would work with a current dosimetrist or medical physicist to learn the necessary skills and techniques.
Each state determines licensure requirements for radiation therapy professionals, so you should check with your state's board of health for specific requirements. Some states may accept certification from the Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board (MDCB) or the American Registry of Radiation Technologists (ARRT) as licensure. The MDCB offers the Certified Medical Dosimetrist designation, for which you are eligible to test after you have completed a JRCERT-accredited program or a bachelor's degree program plus clinical experience.
What Employers Are Looking for
Not all employers require you to be certified before you can be hired, but many want you to be eligible to sit for the exam and may help you gain certification in your first year of work. Some employers are looking for dosimetrists who have just graduated from accredited programs, while others want employees with many years of clinical experience. Check out these summaries of job postings open in March 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:
- A hospital in Oklahoma was looking to hire a dosimetrist who had graduated from an accredited program and had 5-7 years of experience. The posting mentioned that the candidate must be MDCB-certified or eligible to pass the exam within a year of hire.
- A cancer center in Florida wanted a certified dosimetrist with three years of experience or a recent graduate of a dosimetry program who would become certified within one year.
- A hospital in Wisconsin was looking for a dosimetrist with two years of experience or a combination of two years of training and experience.
How to Stand Out in the Field
If you're not required to be certified, you may still choose to seek certification because it is generally preferred by employers. Certification demonstrates your knowledge and ability in the field of medical dosimetry. If you receive on-the-job training instead of attending a formal training program, you need to have either a bachelor's degree or registration with the ARRT as well as 36 months of clinical experience and 24 continuing education credits.
Keep up with Medical Advances
If you're certified, you may be required to attend a certain number of continuing education classes each year in order to maintain your certification. These courses cover many different subjects within radiation therapy and can help keep you abreast of advances in technology and changes in treatment procedures. If you aren't required to have continuing education credits, it can still be a good idea to take classes (which your employer may pay for) in order to keep your knowledge up to date.
Other Careers to Consider
Radiologic Technician or Technologist
If you're interested in radiologic technology but aren't sure you want to work treating cancer, consider becoming a radiologic technician or technologist. Radiologic technicians create images of patient's bones and tissues using x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and fluoroscopy. They attend training programs that last 1-4 years and may need to be licensed in accordance with individual state's laws. The BLS reported in May 2011 that radiologic technicians and technologists made a median annual wage of approximately $55,000, with employment expected to increase by 28% from 2010-2020.
If you're interested in helping in the treatment of cancer patients but you aren't sure about the math and physics involved with dosimetry, consider becoming an oncology nurse. Nurses attend 2- or 4-year training programs, take a national exam to become a registered nurse and can specialize in many areas of healthcare, including oncology. The BLS reported in May 2011 that registered nurses made a median annual wage of about $66,000. Furthermore, job growth was predicted to be faster than the average for all occupations, with an expected increase of 26% in the 2010-2020 decade.