Becoming a Radiation Therapist: Job Description & Salary Info

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A radiation therapist earns a median salary of about $80,000. Is it worth the education and licensure requirements? Learn about the requirements for this occupation, see job postings from real employers and find out the job prospects to determine if becoming a radiation therapist is suitable for you.
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Pros & Cons of Being a Radiation Therapist

As a radiation therapist, you would administer treatment for cancer and work alongside radiology physicians and other specialists to identity where cancerous cells are located in the body. Here is a list of more pros and cons that can help you decide whether this profession is right for you:

Pros of Being a Radiation Therapist
Usually have a steady work schedule*
Numerous advancement opportunities available*
High earning potential for education requirements*
Good job growth (projected 14% increase from 2014-2024)*

Cons of Being a Radiation Therapist
May be exposed to radiation*
Licensure is required in most states*
Usually on feet for long periods of time*
May deal with patients who are terminally ill*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

A radiation therapist is part of a healthcare facility's oncology team, which typically includes radiation oncologists, radiation physicists, dosimetrists and oncology nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some of the general job duties you would have in this position include helping patients understand treatment procedures, performing safety checks on radiation equipment, performing x-rays on patients to identity the precise area for treatment, operating linear accelerator machines to deliver radiation and evaluating patients to determine if treatment causes any adverse effects. Due the nature of this position, you'd risk being exposed to high doses of radiation. To minimize this risk, you'd operate radiation machines in a different room from the patient during procedures.

The BLS notes that radiation therapists are expected to have faster-than-average job growth nationwide from 2014-2024. This anticipated increase in employment is due to the likelihood of elderly persons being diagnosed with cancer, more persons seeking early diagnosis and improvements in treatment procedures. However, the overall number of jobs available for this profession might not be high since this is a small occupation. As of May 2014, the BLS also reported that the lowest-paid 10% of radiation therapists earned less than $53,000, while the top-paid 10% earned $118,000 or more.

What Are the Requirements?

Although it's possible to gain employment as a radiation therapist by completing a certificate program, employers typically hire those who have completed an associate's or bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy. In addition to completing formal postsecondary training, you're required to have a license to practice in most states, according to the BLS. Usual requirements for licensure include graduation from an accredited program and certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To apply for certification, you must have completed your radiation therapy training within the past five years. You're also required to meet ARRT's ethical standards and pass an exam. To maintain your certification, you must meet ARRT's rules and ethics compliance guidelines annually and continuing education requirements biannually.

Job Postings from Real Employers

According to most job postings, employers typically require that radiation therapists have at least three years of experience, as well as ARRT certification and a state license. Following are some job postings for radiation therapists that show what real employers were looking for in October and November 2012.

  • An oncology center in Texas sought a candidate with 3-7 years of experience for a full-time position. This employer also required a candidate who was a graduate of an accredited radiation therapy program, was ARRT certified and had a current state license.
  • A California healthcare company was looking for a radiation therapist to work at a U.S. Air Force base. The candidate would be responsible for performing computerized tomography simulation treatment and assisting radiology physicians. The applicant needed at least two years of experience within the past four years and certification from ARRT.
  • A Phoenix, AZ, healthcare staffing agency wanted to hire radiation therapists to fill positions across the state and U.S. Candidates needed to have at least three years of experience, pass a pre-employment physical, have a current tuberculosis skin test or chest x-ray and have a CPR card. Job duties included administering ionizing radiation treatment.
  • A university hospital in Salt Lake City, UT, sought a part-time candidate to perform radiation therapy and other radiographic procedures on patients. Requirements for this position included a current basic life support card or the ability to obtain a card after one month of hire, radiologic technologist certification and a license to practice in the state.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can stand out from other radiation therapists by obtaining relevant credentials. Among them are basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) credentials. Make sure your credentials are up-to-date prior to applying for jobs. The American Heart Association offers classroom and online training in basic life support and classroom-only training in ACLS.

You also might consider completing a certificate program in an area that's relevant to radiation therapy, such as medical dosimetry. Medical dosimetrists calculate accurate doses of radiation. Most schools offer training in medical dosimetry as a post-baccalaureate program, which usually requires having a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy or another related discipline. With a combination of knowledge in radiation therapy and dosimetry, you'll have the skills to perform the job of two people, which can make you an indispensable member of a radiation oncology team.

Alternative Career Paths

Respiratory Therapist

If you're wary of working with radiation but would like to help patients who have difficulty breathing, becoming a respiratory therapist may be ideal for you. In this role, you'll encounter patients with respiratory conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and emphysema. Some of your duties might include using diagnostic instruments to test lung capacity, performing chest physiotherapy to remove mucus trapped in the lungs and teaching patients to use ventilators or other breathing aids.

To become a respiratory therapist, you usually need at least an associate's degree, according to the BLS. However, many employers prefer to hire candidate who've completed more schooling. You also need a license to practice in all states except Alaska. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that the national median salary for respiratory therapists was about $55,000. The BLS also noted that nationwide employment of these professionals was expected to increase by 28% from 2010-2020.

Physical Therapist

Another career that involves helping patients without exposure to radiation is physical therapist. As a physical therapist, you might provide care for patients who have injuries due to an accident, surgery or chronic illness. You can also specialize in an area such as sports medicine or pediatrics. Your job duties might involve using exercise techniques to help patients improve their movement, developing fitness treatment plans and educating patients on how to handle the recovery process.

According to the BLS, most potential physical therapists complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, although a few complete a physical therapy master's degree program. Typically, you would spend three years in a doctoral program and 2-3 years in a master's program. The BLS found that the median salary earned by physical therapists nationwide was approximately $78,000 as of May 2011. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected that employment for these professionals was likely to increase by 39%, which is much faster than average compared to other occupations.

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