Radiation therapy is a treatment method that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and cure other diseases like melanoma. Radiation therapists are responsible for administering this treatment to patients. If you possess excellent technical skills, and you are interested in healthcare, this is a job you could enjoy.
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1. What Do Radiation Therapists Do?
Their duties include:
- Preparing patients for therapy – This involves explaining the treatment procedure and answering their questions
- Inspecting the machines used in radiation therapy (linear acceleration machines) to ensure they are working properly
- Performing X rays to identify the location of cancer cells in the human body
- Using computer software to program the radiation therapy machine and ensure it gives the correct dosage to the patient
- Monitoring and operating the machine during the entire treatment period – This involves ensuring patients are not overexposed to radiation
- Keeping detailed notes of the treatment process
- Taking instructions from radiation oncologists
2. Work Environment
Unlike many healthcare professionals, radiation therapists generally have regular work schedules because therapies are planned in advance. As such, expect to work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.
At work, radiation therapists must wear protective clothing, as they may come in contact with radioactive material.
Radiation therapists earn an average annual salary of $83,710, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Entry Requirements
The first step to becoming a radiation therapist is to earn at least an associate degree in radiation therapy. You will study human anatomy, physiology, principles of oncology, radiation therapy physics, treatment planning and radiation biology.
Here are some of the institutions offering the program:
Radiation therapy is a regulated profession in all states, including Puerto Rico. Therefore, the next step is to secure a license to practice as a radiation therapist in your state. Although specific licensing requirements vary by state, you generally need to pay a licensing fee, pass a criminal background check and successfully complete a licensing examination.
Given that you don’t need any professional experience to obtain a professional certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technicians, it is advisable to get certified before looking for a job to improve your job prospects.
5. Important Qualities
To be a competent radiation therapist you need:
- Superior technical skills
- The ability to stay abreast of technological advancements in the radiation therapy field
- Superior critical-thinking skills
- Excellent communication skills
- A keen attention to small details
- The ability to follow written and verbal instructions correctly
- Physical stamina – The job may involve moving disabled patients
- Good interpersonal skills
- Good practical skills
- Good observation skills
- A firm grasp of occupational health and safety practices
- Good teamwork skills
- Compassion and empathy
6. Career Advancement
After landing your first job, it is important to engage in continuing education to keep up with technology changes in the field. Securing membership in the American Society of Radiologic Technicians is a good way to access continuing education opportunities, as well as industry news and research publications.
If you entered the profession with an associate degree, be sure to obtain a bachelor’s degree to improve your competence. With experience, you can be promoted to the position of chief therapist.
If you are very ambitious, you can join a medical school and study oncology. Upon graduation, you can obtain an oncologist license to practice as an oncologist.
7. Job Opportunities
Jobs for qualified radiation therapists are available in:
- Medical schools
- Radiotherapy clinics
- Offices of oncologists
Radiotherapy is among the quickly expanding professions. The BLS projects a faster-than-average job growth (24 percent) for radiation therapists between 2012 and 2022. This means there are plenty of employment opportunities.
Finally, cancer is a deadly disease, and it has claimed many lives. By pursuing this profession, you not only get to enjoy the lucrative salaries, but also play a big role in containing the killer disease and saving many lives.