Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.
Radiation therapists typically do the following:
- Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
- Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure to radiation
- Examine machines to make sure they are safe and working properly
- X ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
- Check computer programs to make sure the machine will give the correct dose of radiation to the appropriate area of the patient's body
- Operate the machine to treat the patient with radiation
- Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
- Keep detailed records of treatment
Radiation therapists operate machines called linear accelerators, which are used to deliver radiation therapy. These machines direct high-energy x rays at specific cancer cells in a patient's body, shrinking or removing them.
Radiation therapists are part of the oncology team that treats patients with cancer. They often work with the following specialists:
- Radiation oncologists, physicians who specialize in radiation therapy
- Oncology nurses, registered nurses who specialize in caring for patients with cancer
- Medical physicists, physicists who help in planning of radiation treatments and help to develop better and safer radiation therapies
Most radiation therapists complete programs that lead to an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be licensed or certified in most states. Requirements vary by state, but often include passing a national certification exam.
Employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. However, candidates may qualify for some positions by completing a 12-month certificate program.
Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. These programs often include experience in a clinical setting and courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology. In 2014, there were about 120 accredited educational programs recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Detail oriented. Radiation therapists must follow exact instructions and input exact measurements to make sure the patient is exposed to the correct amount of radiation.
Interpersonal skills. Radiation therapists work closely with patients. It is important that therapists be comfortable interacting with people who may be going through physical and emotional stress.
Physical stamina. Radiation therapists must be able to be on their feet for long periods and be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.
Technical skills. Radiation therapists work with computers and large pieces of technological equipment, so they must be comfortable operating those devices.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed or certified. Requirements vary by state, but typically include graduation from an accredited radiation therapy program and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification.
To become ARRT certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education. A list of accredited programs is available from ARRT.
Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS) certification.
With additional education and certification, therapists can become medical dosimetrists. Dosimetrists are responsible for calculating the correct dose of radiation that is used in the treatment of cancer patients.