Radiation Therapist Job Description

Radiation therapist assisting woman with a scan

Radiation therapist assisting woman with a scan

Radiation Therapist Job Description: Treating cancer in the human body is the principal use of radiation therapy. As part of a medical radiation oncology team, radiation therapists use machines—called linear accelerators—to administer radiation treatment to patients.

Linear accelerators, used in a procedure called external beam therapy, project high-energy x rays at targeted cancer cells. As the x rays collide with human tissue, they produce highly energized ions that can shrink and eliminate cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy is sometimes used as the sole treatment for cancer, but is usually used in conjunction with chemotherapy or surgery.

As part of the Radiation Therapist Job Description during the treatment phase, the radiation therapist monitors the patient’s physical condition to determine if any adverse side effects are taking place. The therapist must also be aware of the patient’s emotional well being. Because many patients are under stress and are emotionally fragile, it is important for the therapist to maintain a positive attitude and provide emotional support.

Radiation therapists keep detailed records of their patients’ treatments. These records include information such as the dose of radiation used for each treatment, the total amount of radiation used to date, the area treated, and the patient’s reactions.

Radiation oncologists and dosimetrists review these records to ensure that the treatment plan is working, to monitor the amount of radiation exposure that the patient has received, and to keep side effects to a minimum.

Radiation therapists also assist medical radiation physicists, workers who monitor and adjust the linear accelerator. Because radiation therapists often work alone during the treatment phase, they need to be able to check the linear accelerator for problems and make any adjustments that are needed. Therapists also may assist dosimetrists with routine aspects of dosimetry, the process used to calculate radiation dosages.

Working Environment

Radiation therapists work in hospitals or in cancer treatment centers. These places are clean, well lighted, and well ventilated. Therapists do a considerable amount of lifting and must be able to help disabled patients get on and off treatment tables. They spend most of their time on their feet. There is a small risk of being exposed to radiation.

Radiation therapists generally work 40 hours a week, and unlike those in other health care occupations, they normally work only during the day. However, because radiation therapy emergencies do occur, some therapists are required to be on call and may have to work outside of their normal hours.

Training and Qualifications to be a Radiation Therapist

A bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate in radiation therapy generally is required. Many States also require radiation therapists to be licensed.

Individuals may become qualified by completing an associate or a bachelor’s degree program in radiography, which is the study of radiological imaging, and then completing a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy programs include core courses on radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them.

In addition, such programs often include courses on human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science, and research methodology. In 2007 there were 123 radiation therapy programs accredited by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Licensing and Credentialing

In 32 states Radiation Therapists are regulated. The usual method to be a credentialed and licensed Radiation Therapist is:

1) Possess the minimum level of training.
2) Pass a certification exam by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
3) Apply for licensure in the state you wish to practice in
4) in those states not requiring licensure most employers require the ARRT certification

Significant Points to the Radiation Therapist Job Description

Employment is expected to increase much faster than average.

Job opportunities should be good, particularly in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings.

A bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate in radiation therapy is generally required.

Continuing education is frequently expected for periodic re-licensure.

The radiation therapist job description is rapidly evolving as medical breakthroughs and technology improves.

Career Progression

Radiation therapists can expect to see increases in salary due to demand. In larger organizations there is room for advancement to become a lead therapist and on occasion the department supervisor. As an allied health specialist they can also be recruited into healthcare administration.

Resources for Radiation Therapists Job Description:

Radiation Therapists: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition.

American Society of Radiologic Technologists - ASRT