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What does a Radiation Therapist do?

Radiation therapists are the medical staff, often with a hospital's cancer management team, who administer radiation therapy treatments to patients with cancer. Many specialize in providing routine diagnostic imaging examinations, however, and most of these radiation therapists specialize in a particular type of diagnostic imaging technique, such as mammography, magnetic resonance imaging, sonography or bone densitometry, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists states.

When administering radiation therapy to help cancer patients eliminate tumors, radiation therapists use X-Ray machines and CT scans to pinpoint the location of the tumor, and then use a machine called a linear accelerator to administer treatment. Radiation therapists must accurately position their patients during these examinations and treatments, as well as keep detailed records of treatment plans. They must be excellent communicators, as they are in continual contact with patients during the length of their treatments, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Education, licensure and advancement

Most positions require an associate or bachelor's degree, or completion of a certificate program in radiation therapy, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Radiation therapy programs typically are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology.

Coursework for radiation therapy programs includes study in radiation therapy procedures, anatomy, writing and public speaking--skills crucial to successful interaction with patients. Other coursework includes:
  • Methods of patient care
  • Record keeping
  • Radiobiology
  • Radiation physics
  • Ethics and law in radiation therapy
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) reports that there are 102 accredited radiation therapy programs in the U.S. Many states require radiation therapists to obtain licensure from the ARRT. Testing covers topics such as radiation protection, as well as proper treatment planning and delivery methods. Candidates also must prove their ability to successfully manage patient care practices and administer radiation.

Some radiation therapists advance their careers by becoming radiation oncologists and dosimetrists, technicians who calculate the dosage of radiation to be delivered during treatment. Others manage radiation therapy programs in treatment centers or hospitals, while some move into teaching, research and technical sales positions.

Job outlook and salary expectations

The field is expected to grow exponentially, the BLS finds, a 27 percent increase. Radiation therapists typically work at hospitals and in physicians offices. States with large populations--California, Florida, New York, Texas--employed the most radiation therapists. Wages were best in South Carolina, California and Washington. The top-paying metropolitan regions were Port St. Lucie, Florida, the Greater Seattle area and the Greater San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area of California.

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