Radiation technicians can be nuclear technicians, radiation therapists or radiologic technologists. Depending on the chosen path, job responsibilities for radiation technicians can involve treating cancer patients or dealing directly with radioactive hazards. Typically, some form of college education, training, and certification are required to enter the field.
The title of radiation technician can apply to multiple career fields, such as nuclear technicians, radiation therapists and radiologic technologists. Nuclear technicians may monitor radiation levels, respond to emergencies and remove hazards. Radiation therapists usually use equipment to dispense treatments to patients with diseases like cancer, while radiologic technologists use machines for diagnostic imaging. Preparation for these jobs can range from on-the-job training to a college education and might also require federally mandated training. Some professionals, such as radiation therapists and radiologic technologists, may need state licensure and could also pursue voluntary certification.
|Career||Radiation Therapist||Radiologic Technologist||Nuclear Technician|
|Required Education||Certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy||Certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in radiologic technology||On-the-job training and/or certificate or associate's degree related to radiation technology or radiation safety|
|Other Requirements||State licensure and/or certification||State licensure or certification||Federal licensure|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||14%*||9%*||-5%*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$80,220*||$56,670*||$80,260*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Radiation Therapists and Radiologic Technologists
Students interested in becoming a radiation therapist or radiologic technologist can choose from certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in these fields. To ensure standardized training, students might want to consider programs approved by either the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), both of which accredit programs in radiation therapy or radiography. Graduating from an accredited program is often a requirement for state licensure.
Accredited programs train students through instruction, laboratory sessions and clinical experiences. Courses focus on the procedures and equipment used in the field. They include topics in medical terminology, medical imaging technologies and radiographic positioning. Students who meet satisfactory achievement levels frequently participate in clinical rotations through a healthcare facility. As students advance through a program, experiences become more intensive and could involve added responsibility.
Licensure and Certification
Federal laws regulate mandatory training for individuals who work with radiologic equipment, though each state specifies the requirements regarding licensure for professionals in this field. The majority require radiation therapists and radiological technologists to earn a state license. The ARRT offers nationally recognized certification exams for both fields that could be used by some states for licensure.
Radiologic technologists perform medical procedures utilizing diagnostic imaging equipment. Radiation therapists operate the machines that dispense cancer treatments to oncology patients. Both of these professionals spend time with patients, either explaining procedures or monitoring progress during a treatment. While radiation therapists work primarily with cancer patients, radiation technologists use x-rays and other imaging equipment to diagnose patients with a variety of conditions, such as broken bones, dental issues or tumors. Radiation technologists could choose to concentrate on a specific form of imaging, such as mammography or computed tomography.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment opportunities for radiation therapists were projected to increase 14%, and jobs for radiologic technologists were anticipated to increase 9% from 2014-2024. Both occupations were expected to benefit from the expansion of the healthcare industry and improvements in cancer treatment. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of a radiation therapist was $80,220, and radiation technologists earned $56,670.
Radiation Protection Technicians
The educational requirements for entry-level radiation protection technicians (RPTs) vary according to the responsibilities and technical skills required for a given job. Some positions provide on-the-job training, while others require either a certificate or associate's degree in radiation safety, radiation technology or a related field of study.
The curricula for these programs typically require significant coursework in math and science. Courses specific to radiation include radiation safety, contamination control, nuclear or power plant systems and radiological chemistry. In addition to classes, students often engage in laboratory sessions and internships that allow them to practice techniques in radiation safety, hazardous material containment and other control procedures.
Those who store and remove hazardous waste must obtain a federal license through the Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA). The mandatory 40-hour training course leading to licensure covers topics in protective gear and equipment, hazardous materials and decontamination. Hazardous removal professionals who work with nuclear and radiation materials must also complete three months of additional courses through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These courses outline the government regulations involving safe removal of nuclear waste and radiation.
RPTs can operate under a number of different titles, including nuclear monitoring technicians or hazardous materials removal workers. These individuals monitor radiation levels as well as identify leaks or potential hazards and remove them. The procedures they use typically depend on the level of an emergency. In serious cases, RPTs could have to organize an evacuation of a contaminated area. They might also specialize in a particular expertise, such as decontamination, emergency response or storage and disposal.
Radiation protection technicians can use a number of measuring tools on the job, such as spectrometers, radiation detectors and gamma counters. They might inspect areas around a nuclear facility or nearby construction sites and runoff areas. These individuals also analyze soil, air or water samples to determine the extent of a contamination.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS reported that employment opportunities for nuclear technicians, the category that includes nuclear monitoring technicians, would decrease 5%. The expected decrease is attributed to increased pressure on traditional forms of power generation from their alternative counterparts. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of a nuclear technician was $80,260.
Regardless of which career path a potential radiation technician takes, they will need to undergo some form of training and education. This may range from on-the-job training to a relevant bachelor's degree, in addition to certification in many cases. Job responsibilities for radiation technicians depend on the chosen career path, but can include patient treatment, diagnostic imaging or emergency response.