What is a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by giving radiation treatments. Most radiation therapists work in hospitals or cancer treatment centers.

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What does a Radiation Therapist do?

Radiation therapists typically do the following:

  • Examine machines to make sure they are safe and work properly
  • Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
  • Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure
  • X-ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
  • Check the computer programs to make sure that they will give the correct dose of radiation to the correct area of the patient's body
  • Operate the equipment to treat the patient with radiation
  • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
  • Keep detailed records of treatment.

Most radiation therapy involves machines called linear accelerators. 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, nurses who specialize in patients with cancer
  • Radiation physicists, physicists who calibrate linear accelerators
  • Dosimetrists, workers who calculate the correct dose of radiation to use in the treatment.

What does it take to be a Radiation Therapist?

Although candidates may qualify by completing a 12-month certificate program, employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. In addition, these programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology. In most jurisdictions, radiation therapists must have a license, and requirements vary across these. To be licensed, radiation therapists must usually graduate from an accredited radiation therapy program and be certified. To become certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to specified ethical standards, and pass the certification exam. The exam covers radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education.

What is the workplace of a Radiation Therapist like?

Radiation therapists work in healthcare facilities or cancer treatment centers. They are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients. Because they work with radiation and radioactive material, radiation therapists must follow safety procedures to make sure that they are not exposed to a potentially harmful amount of radiation. This restriction usually means standing in a different room while the patient undergoes radiation procedures.

How much does a Radiation Therapist earn?

The median annual wage of radiation therapists was $74,980 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $50,950, and the top 10% earned more than $110,550. Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

Learn more about being a Radiation Therapist