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Degrees in Radiation Therapy by Degree Program Level

In most cases, a 2- or 4-year degree in radiation therapy or radiologic technology is required in order to begin a career in radiation therapy. A bachelor's degree might be required to advance to supervisory positions in the field; a master's degree prepares students for advanced positions or allows them to pursue work in teaching or research.

Essential Information

Radiation therapists administer radiation therapy to cancer patients and patients with other medical conditions. Common course topics explored in undergraduate programs include radiation physics, radiation oncology and radiobiology. Through class instruction and clinical experiences, students will learn how to operate radiographic equipment and administer care to patients. Master's-level studies focus on clinical training and administrative practices. An emphasis is placed on diagnostic imaging and radiation oncology. As master's degrees in this area of study are relatively uncommon, students can pursue a degree in a similar area, such as radiologic health sciences or medical physics.

  • Program Levels: Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Radiation Therapy; Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy or Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences; Master of Science in Medical Radiologic Physics, Radiologic Health Sciences or in Medical Physics
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for entry into an associate's or bachelor's program; a bachelor's degree in a related field is required for entry into a master's program.
  • Program Length: An associate's degree takes two years; a bachelor's degree takes four years; a master's degree takes two years.
  • Other Requirements: Clinical experience is required.

Associate's Degree in Radiation Therapy

Several technical and community colleges in the United States offer an associate's degree program in radiation therapy. Many of these programs result in an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree. A college may allow a graduate of an associate program to transfer their credits to a 4-year institution to complete a bachelor's in radiation therapy.

Graduates of a 2-year degree program in radiation therapy may take an exam to become certified radiologic technologists. This exam is administered by ARRT - American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (www.arrt.org). In order to earn certification, a student must complete a program that is accredited in a manner recognized by ARRT and must satisfy ARRT's educational and clinical requirements.

The curriculum for an associate's degree program in radiation therapy consists mainly of basic and introductory courses, along with clinical experience in the field. In addition to principles and practice of radiation therapy, topics addressed in this program include:

  • Radiation oncology
  • Radiation physics
  • Cross sectional anatomy
  • Radiographic equipment operation
  • Radiobiology

Bachelor's Degree in Radiation Therapy

In some cases, employers might require a 4-year degree rather than an associate's degree in radiation therapy. Schools may offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Radiation Therapy or Bachelor of Science degrees in Radiologic Sciences with a concentration in radiation therapy. As with an associate's degree, students who earn a bachelor's degree are also eligible to take the ARRT examination in radiation therapy to become certified radiation technologist. A bachelor's degree is a good choice for individuals looking to attend graduate school. In addition, in some cases, an associate program may be more technical in nature and transferring to a bachelor's program may provide a student with courses that support and broaden the associate degree's curriculum.

Though students find similar courses in a bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy as those found in an associate's degree program, classes offered in a 4-year program are more advanced. In addition, clinical experiences, seminars and internships are part of a bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy. The curriculum for a bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy may include:

  • Clinical oncology
  • Applied radiation therapy
  • Radiation therapy physics
  • Patient care management for radiation therapy
  • Professional issues for radiation therapy
  • Advanced radiation biology

Master's Degree in Radiation Therapy

Though not required to become a radiation therapist or radiologic technologist, those seeking advanced positions in this field or related fields may enroll in a master's program. Few schools actually offer a master's degree specifically in radiation therapy. Those interested in pursuing an advanced degree in this area might choose a Master of Science in Medical Radiologic Physics, Radiologic Health Sciences or in Medical Physics with a concentration in clinical radiation oncology.

The curriculum in this master's degree program prepares students for roles in administration, as well as clinical opportunities in the field of radiation therapy. Program coursework includes:

  • Clinical training in radiation oncology physics
  • Radiation detection and measurement
  • Radiation dosimetry
  • Diagnostic imaging physics
  • Management techniques in radiologic administrators
  • Financial management for radiologic administration

Popular Career Options

Graduates of a bachelor's degree program are trained to conduct safety checks, to operate radiation equipment, to properly position a patient for his or her procedure and to prepare the results for the attending physician. They may enter the field of radiation therapy in entry-level positions as radiation therapists or radiation technologists in any of the following venues:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Cancer treatment centers
  • Community health centers
  • Group practices

Graduates of a master's degree program in field of radiation therapy may conduct consultations, perform research or possibly teach. They may be prepared for any of the following positions:

  • Hospital radiation physicist
  • Administrator radiation therapy services
  • Radiation therapy educator
  • Radiation therapy researcher

Salary Info and Employment Outlook

Radiation therapist job prospects are projected to grow 24% in the decade between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). An increase in the population of elderly people will result in a demand for radiation therapy services, since cancer risk increases with age. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for radiation therapists was $80,090 in May 2014.

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