Radiation Therapy Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Training Program Info

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Associate's and bachelor's degree programs and training programs in radiation therapy can lead to a career as a radiation therapist. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree or training.
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Studying Radiation Therapy: Degrees at a Glance

Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to patients suffering from cancer and other illnesses. Other job tasks these workers might perform include positioning patients for procedures, monitoring patients during treatments and explaining procedures to patients. These therapists must follow strict safety protocols to ensure the safety of themselves and their patients. Most states require radiation therapists to be licensed. Although the requirements vary in each state, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the basic requirements usually include graduating from an accredited program and becoming certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. The BLS predicted that positions for radiation therapists would increase 20% during the 2010-2020 decade.

Associate's Bachelor's Training Programs
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in starting a career in radiation therapy Individuals interested in a career in radiation therapy or advancing in their current positions Experienced individuals looking to further their training
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Radiation therapist ($77,000)* (The same career is available to individuals who complete bachelor's degree programs) (The same career is available to individuals who complete training programs)
Time to Completion 2 years, full time 4 years, full time 1-1.5 years, full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Around 60 semester credits
- Clinical rotations
- Around 120 semester credits
- Clinical rotations
- Between 30-50 semester credits
- Clinical rotations
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Clinical observation
- High school diploma or GED
- SAT or ACT scores
- Clinical observation
- Radiation therapy experience (in some cases)
- Experience in radiation therapy
- Prerequisite coursework
Online Availability No, but hybrid programs are available Yes Blended

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics (May 2012 figures).

Associate's Degree Programs

Associate's degree programs in radiation therapy are typically offered as Associate of Science degrees, although some Associate of Arts programs are available. In addition to traditional, lecture-based learning, instruction in these programs is delivered through laboratory and clinical experiences. Associate's programs can be accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT).

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs usually include clinics and labs, providing you with hands-on work experience
  • An accrediting body ensures that accredited programs meet the standards of the profession
  • Graduating from an associate's degree program prepares you for most entry-level positions in radiation therapy

Cons

  • Admission to associate's degree programs may be competitive
  • Some programs may require that applicants possess experience and have completed prerequisite coursework prior to granting admission
  • Programs include general education requirements that extend the amount of time it takes to earn your degree

Coursework and Requirements

Usually, associate's degree programs in radiation therapy include classes in anatomy, physiology, math, communications and sociology. Clinical experiences typically begin in the second semester of your first year of study. Some of the topics you may study in these programs include:

  • Patient care
  • Dose calculations
  • Radiation therapy physics
  • Pathology
  • Sectional anatomy
  • Radiation biology

Online Programs

Due to their significant clinical and laboratory training requirements, associate's degree programs in radiation therapy are not available entirely online. However, some programs are available in hybrid formats that allow you to complete general education courses online.

How to Get Ahead

To set yourself apart from your competition, consider completing classes in electronic medical record creation and maintenance. Some employers seek candidates with knowledge of this type. Therefore, being able to use and manipulate electronic medical records may impress employers.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs are available in radiation therapy and related fields, such as radiation science technology. Regardless of program title, however, these programs teach you about the applied and theoretical concepts of radiation therapy. Some programs may allow students to concentrate their studies in areas like sectional imaging or medical dosimetry. These programs may be accredited by the JRCERT.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Concentrations may be offered, allowing you to focus your studies in an area of your interest
  • Programs are accredited to ensure that they prepare students to meet professional standards when working in the field
  • Some employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor's degree, setting you apart from associate's degree holders

Cons

  • Not all jobs require possessing a bachelor's degree, resulting in your competing with associate's degree holders for positions
  • Some jobs require professional experience and do not permit substitution of advanced education for required experience
  • Students in these programs must complete more general education courses than individuals in associate's degree programs, extending the amount of time it takes to earn the degree

Coursework and Requirements

Courses in bachelor's degree radiation therapy programs include calculus, physics and biology. In these programs, in addition to lectures and lab sessions, you complete clinical experience, some of which may last as long as a year. Topics you may study include:

  • Radiation science ethics
  • Oncologic pathology
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiation therapy physics
  • Radiation biology

Online Programs

A limited number of online bachelor's degree programs in radiation therapy are available. However, because these programs lack a clinical component, JRCERT doesn't accredit them.

How to Get Ahead

To stand out against your competition, consider completing classes that teach you how to use software programs commonly used in the field. Being able to use these programs may impress employers.

You might also consider specializing in a specific area. Having a focus to your studies may increase the likelihood of your finding a job in that subset of the field immediately after graduation.

Training Programs

If you are already a radiation therapy professional, you may consider completing a certificate program. These programs typically take a little more than a year to complete. Many times, admission to these programs requires possessing extensive amounts of work experience and having completed classes in math, science and radiation therapy. Some programs may offer benefits, such as there being no tuition charged, to students. These programs may also be accredited by the JRCERT.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Short completion time; many programs can be completed in a little more than a year
  • Significant clinical experience is included in most program curriculum
  • Majority of curriculum focuses specifically on radiation therapy

Cons

  • Must be experienced radiation therapy professional for admission
  • May need to have completed some prerequisite courses
  • Due to the short duration of these programs, most are typically only offered on a full-time basis

Coursework and Requirements

The curriculum of certificate programs are typically divided between hands-on experience and coursework. In the clinical component of these programs, you work under the supervision of radiation therapists and oncologists. Classes you take may include:

  • Sectional anatomy
  • Radiation therapy patient care
  • Radiation oncology
  • Radiation biology
  • Radiation therapy procedures

Online Programs

A few accredited certificate programs in radiation therapy are available online, but in a blended format. These programs allow you to complete course requirements online, but require you to attend clinical rotations at an approved radiation therapy center. Typically, these programs can be completed in the same length of time as their on-campus counterparts.

How to Get Ahead

To stand out with your training, consider completing a research project during your training. Some programs include classes in research methods. Having experience investigating a topic in the field may impress employers seeking candidates who are willing to conduct research to identify better ways to perform treatments.

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