Radiation Therapist

Pros


  • This is a rewarding career that involves working with patients to help them fight cancer.
  • Unlike other health professionals, radiation therapists usually only work during the day.
  • There is expected to be above-average growth in this profession, and that means job opportunities are very good.

Cons

  • You will be working with cancer patients who may be under a lot of stress. You will need to have a positive attitude at all times.
  • A lot of time will be spent standing and walking around in this job.
  • You will be working with radioactive materials. You must take care to make sure patients as well as yourself do not become overexposed.

Overview

Radiation therapists operate specialized machinery that helps patients fight cancer. This machinery is called a linear accelerator, which is used in a treatment called external beam therapy that projects x-rays at cancer cells that have been specifically targeted. Along with surgery and chemotherapy, external beam therapy is one of the chief methods of treating cancer.

A radiation therapist works with a team of oncology health professionals that care for cancer patients. This will include a radiation oncologist who is a doctor that focuses on radiation therapy, a dosimetrist that calculates radiation doses for treatment as well as nurses. Together, they will devise a specific treatment plan for the patient. This starts will a computer tomography (CT) scan to determine the specific area that the radiologist will target with x-rays. Once treatment begins, a radiation therapist will use a linear accelerator to specifically target cancerous cells or tumors. In a separate room from the patient, they will monitor vital statistics until treatment is completed. This can last up to 30 minutes and is usually performed five days a week for a period of weeks at a time.

A linear accelerator emits radiation, therefore making it potentially dangerous to people. Radiation therapists must take special care to make sure that proper safety procedures are followed. Because of the special equipment they use, radiation therapists usually work in either a hospital or a cancer treatment center.

Education

Radiation therapists at a minimum need to complete an associate’s degree and become properly licensed in order to get an entry-level job. Many entering the field today will have completed a bachelor’s degree, and in competitive job markets this may be required. Students studying radiation therapy can expect their courses to involve anatomy, physiology and research methods. Once education has been completed, it is necessary in most states for one to become properly licensed by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Job Prospects

The job growth for radiation therapy is expected to grow very quickly in the coming years. Radiation technology is advancing at a fast rate and as a result of this it is possible to treat more types of cancer than ever before with radiation. The aging population is also contributing to the growth in this field as more patients are getting this type of treatment performed on them in the hopes of being free from cancer. Along with these demands is the fact that new workers will be needed in this occupation to replacing retiring workers.

Advancement Opportunities

There are opportunities for advancement for radiation therapists. It is much easier for one in the field to move up an organization’s ranks if they have a bachelor’s degree, as many job positions require it. After gaining some work experience, radiation therapists can be found working in managerial positions, teaching students, conducting research or even working in sales organizations. They can also obtain additional training to learn to properly dose radiation during therapy for patients, becoming dosimetrists.