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Radiation therapists play an important role as they assist with oncology teams.
Radiation therapists have a specialized role since they usually only work with radiation therapy. At first, this may give the impression radiation therapists do not need as much medical training as other health science professionals, but this is not the case.
Learning radiation therapy is extensive. Not only is there a great deal of information to learn, but the equipment used in radiation therapy is life-threatening if it is administered incorrectly. Before joining any oncology team, radiation therapists must spend years training and getting all the necessary licenses and certifications.
As a radiation therapist, it is important to stay up to date with the latest medical advancements. Radiation therapists spend much of their career receiving new certification and learning new techniques to treat cancer and tumors. As of writing, the main piece of medical equipment radiation therapists use is a linear accelerator (LINAC).
Most radiation therapists work in hospitals and outpatient healthcare centers, although some are employed in other locations, such as a physician office. Because of how much technology has advanced in recent years, radiation therapists are highly sought after. More patients are being treated for conditions that previously were believed to be incurable, so there is a significant demand for more radiation therapists.
Radiation therapists are always part of an oncology team, which means they work alongside other specialized healthcare professionals. Some other professionals commonly found on an oncology team include specialized nurses, oncologists and medical physicists. While radiation therapists help their team throughout treatment, their main job is to administer radiation therapy.
Before a radiation therapist comes up with a treatment plan, he or she must meet with the patient. Working alongside patients is stressful for many radiation therapists. If you want to pursue a career as a radiation therapist, you must be prepared to face difficult situations and provide a proper bedside manner.
Radiation therapists must practice discussing sensitive subjects in a professional manner without coming off as cold or uncaring towards a patient. They must inspire confidence to help make the patient feel safe and better about their odds.
After consulting with the patient, the radiation therapist reconvenes with the oncology team to come up with a treatment plan. Radiation therapists use different medical equipment to deliver small doses of radiation to treat cancerous tumors. Radiation therapists must be comfortable operating several large pieces of medical equipment. Even the smallest error can lead to serious consequences for the patient.
Once the treatment is complete, radiation therapists must follow up with the patient and ensure all the treatment information is properly recorded and provided to other members of the oncology team.
All students interested in pursuing a career in radiation therapy must get the proper certification and degrees. At minimum, students must have either an associate or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Some hospitals accept radiation therapists who only have certification as a radiation therapist, but typically these applicants must have some previous medical experience.
Depending on where you are applying, your employer may ask for additional degrees or certification to work with an oncology team. If you are applying in a competitive field, you may not be considered if you do not have additional credentials outside of the base requirements.
Whether you must be licensed or simply certified changes depending on the state in which you apply for work. Typically, most states require radiation therapists to have a degree from an appropriate therapy program, which means being certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (AART). At the very least, students must pass a national certification exam before entering a radiation therapy career.
Although it is not typically a part of their job, most employers require radiation therapists to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS). Unlike other health science careers, radiation therapists are rarely able to waive licensing requirements with past experience.
Radiation therapists are in high demand. As of writing, it is expected the need for radiation therapists is only going to increase over the next 10 years. Radiation therapists are rising in popularity for several reasons. The average life expectancy is steadily increasing. As patients get older, they are more likely to develop serious medical conditions that require a radiation therapist to treat.
Radiation therapists are in higher demand because the technology keeps advancing, meaning new treatment options are becoming available.
Although there is a higher demand for radiation therapists, it is still a competitive field. More students are graduating with the intent of working as a radiation therapist. You can expect to find plenty of jobs hiring radiation therapists, but anticipate facing plenty of competition, especially if you are applying in a larger city.
Newer applicants are encouraged to pursue a bachelor’s degree or apply for other medical certification, even if it is not required by the state. This helps applicants stand out among other medical graduates looking for work. Any prior experience working in a medical field helps as well.
Radiation therapists frequently rank as some of the highest paying health science employees. How much radiation therapists make varies depending on whether they work for the state or are employed through a private hospital. Outpatient care centers and physician’s office pay well, though not quite as high as most private hospitals. As of writing, the average wage for radiation therapists is around $80,000 annually.
Radiation therapists are expected to work full time. Radiation therapists must be willing to work alongside a medical team to help come up with a proper treatment plan.
Radiation therapists spend a surprising amount of time on their feet. They must be in good shape, as they operate heavy machinery and may need to help move patients who have limited mobility.
Radiation therapists must be dedicated at work and always follow safety procedures. Radiation therapists who try and cut corners are risking not only their health, but the health of their patients as well.