How to Become
a Radiation Therapist
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
Radiation therapists work in hospitals and help treat cancer and other diseases through radiation treatment. Some of these experts work in physician’s offices and other outpatient centers. Do you want a career in radiation therapy? This guide will show you how to become a radiation therapist and the essential skills to learn.
Radiation therapists are a large part of the healthcare team of a patient. It is very important work and it involves saving lives on a daily basis. You will find everything you need to know about starting this career in this guide.
What Is a Radiation Therapist?
A radiation therapist is a medical professional that specializes in administering radiation treatment for cancer and other life-threatening conditions. This expert works on the orders of a radiation oncologist or medical physicist.
As a radiation therapist, you determine what part of the patient’s body needs radiation treatment. You will also operate the radiation equipment and monitor patient responses during the procedure. Throughout the process, you will keep records so that the physician can assess the patient’s progress and develop therapeutic strategies.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Radiation Therapist?
Only community colleges and universities can offer training for this profession. You should attend a university to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Radiation Therapy. This four-year program prepares you for the challenges you may face when you enter the workforce. Some universities even have internship programs where students can get work experience before graduating.
Another option to consider is a community college for an associate degree. Community colleges have two-year programs for aspiring radiation therapists.
Best Radiation Therapist Education Tracks
There aren’t too many educational tracks for radiation therapists. Some other occupations have shorter alternatives, like coding bootcamps for tech professionals. This is not the case for this vocation. You can only qualify through a bachelor’s or associate degree.
Community colleges now have radiation therapy programs and they last from one to two years. The shorter programs last for a year. However, these programs only offer diplomas or certificates. The two-year programs offer you an associate degree.
The longer program allows students to have clinical education in hospitals for up to a year. It provides in-depth training for students. The focus is on hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge.
Radiation Therapist Degree
Some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree or associate degree. Universities offer degree programs for radiation therapists. The students learn how to operate and maintain different radiological equipment.
You will also learn how to treat people with cancer. Before the program ends, you will get hands-on experience by working as an intern in a hospital radiology department.
You can also learn about patient psychology and care, emergency procedures, and oncology skills. If you want to increase your employability, you should consider a bachelor’s degree.
How to Become a Radiation Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide
Becoming a radiation therapist can take just a few years for some, while others take a longer route. Internships and certifications may delay your entrance into the industry, but they give you a better resume than your peers.
Here are the steps to follow to become a radiation therapist.
Education and training
The first step before starting most careers is education. In this case, you have the option to learn in a community college or a university. The main difference is the time you will spend learning.
Obtain a license
Many states in the US require a radiation therapist to get a license before they can practice. You must become a registered technologist. The process differs in some states, but you will need to get a certification from the ARRT.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the certifying body in this case. You need to have a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree to obtain this certification. The body has some clinical procedures and coursework to check if you are suitably skilled before granting certification.
Gain work experience
Most employers only want candidates with some experience on the job. Luckily for you, universities and even community colleges offer clinical training with real patients. You will benefit from this training.
You need to be recertified by the ARRT. The certification expires after two years. This means you must be ready to renew your credentials by applying for renewal.
Key Radiation Therapist Skills
Even though you have education training in radiology, you still need some skills to thrive in the industry. For one, you should be detail-oriented. The radiation is applied to the same spot every time. Miscalculations can affect the treatment.
Also, you must be conscientious of the patient’s safety and your own. Radiation is dangerous if protocols are not followed.
Below are some other important skills to cultivate before joining this particular profession.
Science, Math and Medical Knowledge Skills
These experts monitor radiation treatments to the letter to ensure the patient’s safety. It also ensures that the procedure is a success. They need some skills to follow the procedure with precision.
Also, radiation therapists need a solid background in topics like physics, dentistry, medicine, and mathematical concepts. They must also know how to treat illnesses with therapy.
These professionals must have excellent interpersonal skills because they have to work with vulnerable patients on a daily basis. As a radiation therapist, you must be comfortable speaking with people who are suffering from a lot of physical and emotional stress.
You must also be able to communicate properly with both medical professionals and patients. This is key to ensuring your patient gets the right treatment.
Critical Thinking Skills
Radiation therapists also need critical thinking skills to work successfully. You must be excellent at assessing medical conditions and coming up with logical solutions to solve the problem. In addition, you need to monitor your patients as they undergo treatment to ensure that they are comfortable at all times.
Radiation Therapist Salary and Job Outlook
Radiation therapists earned a median salary of $86,850 in 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some of these experts earned up to $128,630, while others on the lower spectrum earned around $59,280.
The employment of radiation therapists is also expected to rise seven percent by 2029, according to BLS, which attributes its projection to an aging population, and advancement in radiation therapies.
Entry-Level Radiation Therapist Job Requirements
Most entry-level jobs require candidates to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in the field. Aside from this training, candidates are also expected to have a license or be certified to practice in many states. The requirements are different in most states but often require a national certification exam.
What Does a Radiation Therapist Do?
Radiation therapists are responsible for using radiation treatments for diseases like cancer while working with other medical professionals. You are trained to use radiation tools and handle most of the treatment with instructions from an oncologist. You will monitor the process and record every event to help the doctors determine the best treatment method.
Below are some of the main roles of a radiation therapist.
Collecting Relevant Patient Information
You will gather relevant data that could help the doctors treat the patient. The therapist also reads through the notes and checks tests, CT and MRI scans, or X-rays, to find the problematic tumor.
As a radiation therapist, you will explain the entire process to the patient. Empathy is an important trait in this line of work. You have to maintain professionalism while being empathetic.
Planning Patient Treatment
A radiation therapist also plans patient treatment by gathering information with a simulator. This process usually involves the use of special knee rests, or thermo-plastic masks to hold the patient in place until the radiation is complete.
Planning is also called dosimetry. After gathering the information from the simulation, the oncologist will be tasked with indicating where the treatment should go.
Explaining Procedures to Patients
These professionals also need to explain how the procedure will go to the patient. You will offer support during this difficult time and listen to a patient’s concerns. In addition, you will assess the reaction of the patient to the treatment and advise on potential side effects.
Radiation therapists also suggest solutions to the uncomfortable side effects a patient might experience. This is why interpersonal skills are crucial. You need to be able to provide some form of comfort for the patient.
Radiation Therapist Certifications
To become a radiation therapist, you need to be certified. Only one certification is enough to practice in your field. It is from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). It qualifies you to apply for jobs because many employers will not consider you if you do not have this certification.
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
This certification determines if you are competent in clinical procedures and coursework as outlined by the professional body. Also, it requires candidates to pass an exam that focuses on topics like radiation protection, clinical concepts, and quality assurance.
It will also cover topics like patient care and education, plus treatment delivery and planning. If you want to venture into other fields under radiology, you can consider getting certification in sonography, mammography, or densitometry from the same body.
How to Prepare for Your Radiation Therapist Job Interview
Despite having all the qualifications and certification, employers will still require an interview to check if you are fit for the job. You should be able to ace your interview if you go prepared. In most cases, knowledge of basic concepts in the field may be helpful as well as general confidence.
Below are some possible interview questions to expect.
Radiation Therapist Job Interview Practice Questions
- Are you comfortable with talking to people who are going through emotional and physical stress? Can you show me how you would comfort them?
- How will you manage a situation where you don’t agree with your colleague on the radiation therapy process for your patient? Please give me an example?
- As a radiation therapist, what is your specialty?
- Show me how you can determine which treatment is ideal for a patient.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?
The time it takes to become a professional depends on the educational path you choose. However, you may need to spend more than four years to start working. Even after finishing a two-year degree, you may still be expected to get working experience and pass certification exams.
Some universities and community colleges offer clinical training in hospitals for real-world experience. This may be beneficial as work experience.
Should You Become a Radiation Therapist in 2021?
If you are passionate about helping others at their lowest point, you should consider a career in radiology. The job has a positive outlook with a rewarding salary. Also, this growth is expected to continue into the future as the aging population rises.
You should become a radiation therapist in 2021 if you have strong interpersonal skills and you are a critical thinker. It is an important role in society today and will be for the foreseeable future.
Radiation Therapist FAQ
Is It dangerous to become a radiation therapist?
Radiation therapists are trained on how to prevent exposure to radiation. The risks of working in this field are minimal as long as the expert follows protocol.
What do radiation therapists do?
Radiation therapists use machines like linear accelerators to find tumors and treat patients with cancer or other serious illnesses. This professional works in a hospital’s radiology department and collaborates with oncologists.
How many years does it take to become a radiation therapist?
It takes at least two to four years to finish training for this profession. However, you may need to spend more time gathering job experience and taking certification exams.
Are radiation therapists in demand?
These experts are in demand and will see faster than average job growth until 2029, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.