Radiation Therapist Careers

Are you interested in pursuing a career in health care? If so, then you may be considering a job as a radiation therapist. This career can be both challenging and rewarding.

On one hand, you will be able to help patients and their families at times of severe difficulty but, on the other hand, you will have to deal with the reality of some patients’ health worsening. The job is not suitable for everyone, and not just for those reasons. You will have to possess the necessary skills to use technical machines, have great communication skills and pay attention to very precise details.

To help you consider whether or not you are suited to the position of radiation therapist, begin by reading the following invaluable information. It will give you a good idea of what a radiation therapist’s job involves and what the average salaries are. You will also discover which qualifications you need to get started in this much-needed industry.

What do radiation therapists do?

Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to treat cancer. Radiation treatment can also sometimes be used to treat other diseases. Most radiation therapists work full-time in hospitals, outpatient centers and physicians’ offices.

Various forms of radiation are delivered by various methods to shrink patients’ tumors. Radiation therapists skillfully use high-tech machines called linear accelerators. These machines administer radiation beams to the tumor. First, the radiation therapist identifies the tumor’s location by using imaging equipment. When it has been located, the linear accelerator is used in another room. This is so the radiation therapist will not be exposed to the radiation. Sessions of treatment last about 30 minutes. The treatment is performed over several weeks. Sometimes the sessions can be daily. In each session, the radiation therapist monitors the patient’s health and adjusts the treatment as necessary. Although that is the main task of a radiation therapist, the job role involves much more. Typically, radiation therapists do the following:

  • X-ray patients to identify the location of the tumor
  • Explain the treatment plans to patients
  • Follow safety procedures to avoid overexposure of radiation to patients and themselves
  • Make sure machines are working correctly
  • Keep records of the treatment

Radiation therapy can be used to treat many conditions. Some of these conditions include the following:

  • Leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood that develops in bone marrow
  • Meningioma, which is a type of tumor that surrounds the spinal cord and brain
  • Acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous tumor that can develop from too many Schwann cells pressing on the nerves of the inner ear
  • Arteriovenous malformations, which usually occurs in the brain or spine and involves abnormal connections between veins and arteries that causes bleeding or neurological problems
  • Trigeminal neuralgia, which is a nerve disorder, and symptoms include a stabbing pain in certain areas of the face

What qualifications do you need to become a radiation therapist?

It is possible for radiation therapists to become qualified by completing a 12-month vocational program, but generally, employers only hire people who hold a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree in radiation therapy. Courses cover radiation therapy treatments, scientific theories, computer science, research methodology, physiology, anatomy, algebra and physics.

Although qualification requirements vary from state to state, radiation therapists do need to have a license to work in most states. To gain a license, you must have graduated from an accredited radiation therapy course. You must also gain a certificate from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. To gain that certificate, you must pass an examination that covers topics like:

  • Quality assurance.
  • Radiation protection.
  • Radiation oncology.
  • Clinical concepts.
  • Patient care.
  • Treatment delivery.
  • Treatment planning.

Once you have become a qualified practicing radiation therapist and you have become experienced, there is room to advance in the field. You could become a manager of radiation therapy programs, where you would take on additional managerial responsibilities. You could also move into research, teaching or technical sales. By completing additional training and gaining more specific qualifications, you could become a dosimetrist, which is a professional who is responsible for calculating the right dosage of radiation to be administered to cancer patients.

Are you suited to a radiation therapist career?

Having an interest in health care and technical health care machinery is obviously important, but there are many other qualities you will need to possess if you want to become a radiation therapist. You may have transferable skills from your current job that would continue to be used in a radiation therapist position.

For instance, you will need to have great interpersonal skills. You will be working directly with patients who are suffering from serious illnesses, so you need to be able to put patients at ease and communicate well. You also need to be able to communicate in a precise and professional manner to other healthcare professionals at the facility where you are working. You will be working with computers and specialized equipment, so you have to be knowledgeable and comfortable in using such machines and possess technical skills

Working in life and death situations means you must be able to pay attention to precise details. You need to make sure patients receive the correct dose of radiation treatment. Being a problem-solver will also help, as you need to be able to identify and solve problems in this highly complex field. Critical thinkers with analytical skills are ideal to work as radiation therapists. You need to be physically fit and have a lot of physical stamina because you will be on your feet all day and you will need to lift and move patients.

How much can radiation therapists make?

Radiation therapists’ salaries in the United States range between $72,707 and $89,882 per year. The average annual salary for radiation therapists is $80,447. Additional benefits packages and bonuses are also sometimes available. Factors like your level of education, the place where you work and the amount of experience you have also make a difference in how much you can earn. Your salary can depend on the state you work in too. The following five states offer the best average annual salaries:

  • California: $113,710
  • New Jersey: $104,700
  • Oregon: $99,350
  • Florida: $97,710
  • Washington: $97,670

The following five states offer the lowest average annual salaries:

  • West Virginia: $60,870
  • Louisiana: $65,440
  • Kansas: $66,330
  • Arkansas: $71,400
  • Iowa: $73,270

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