Radiation therapy programs utilize a combination of traditional lecture-style courses and hands-on clinical experiences in order to prepare students for careers as radiation therapists. Widely available at community colleges, two-year associate's programs can prepare students for entry-level certification. Applicants to an associate's degree program typically need to have completed all general education requirements, conduct a personal interview, and visit a hospital's radiation department.
While an associate's degree program will be supplemented with general education courses, another option is to pursue a year long radiation therapy certificate after earning a degree in radiological imaging or radiograpy. Prerequisites for most certificate programs include graduating from a radiologic technology program or being a radiologic technologist registered with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). In addition, applicants should have experience supervising operation in a radiology department. It is strongly recommended that radiation therapy students complete coursework in algebra, psychology, anatomy, and radiation physics.
Radiation Therapy Certificate
Radiation therapy certificate programs are most commonly designed for diagnostic radiographers looking for more specialized training. Completion of a radiation therapy certificate program, combined with a radiographic sciences degree program, prepares graduates for radiation therapy certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Students in these programs not only learn about radiation therapy procedures, but study the scientific theories underlying them. These programs emphasize the importance of maintaining accurate patient records, providing emotional support to families, using calculations to determine radiation dosage and utilizing technologically advanced equipment to deliver radiation treatment.
Radiation therapy certificate programs combine extensive clinical experience with classroom instruction. Common coursework includes:
- Introductory radiation therapy
- Patient care practices
- Treatment planning
- Radiation physics
Associate of Science in Radiation Therapy
An associate's degree program in radiation therapy prepares students for certification through the ARRT. Graduates are prepared to treat cancer patients under the supervision of a radiation oncologist, as well as equipped to maintain accurate patient records, determine radiation dosage through mathematical calculations and use technologically advanced equipment to deliver radiation treatment. They will also be able to observe and assess a patient's clinical progress and detect equipment malfunctions or radiation hazards.
Radiation therapy programs place a strong emphasis on emotional support for cancer patients and their families. Common coursework as part of a radiation therapy associate's degree program also covers:
- Treatment planning
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Medical ethics
- Radiation protection
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Radiation therapists work in settings such as cancer centers and hospitals. The job market for radiation therapists is expected to increase by 14% from 2014 through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the average annual earnings of radiation therapists was $84,460 in May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
Although certificate or associate's degree programs prepare students for certification through the ARRT, some employers may require a bachelor's degree. Students interested in additional education and academic credentials can pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in radiation therapy. Advanced education can also prepare radiation therapists for additional career opportunities in areas such as teaching, administration and medical physics.
In addition to completing an accredited radiation therapy program, candidates seeking certification by ARRT must also meet the organization's ethical standards and pass an examination. Certification must be renewed annually, and fulfillment of continuing education credits is required every two years. Additionally, radiation therapists must continue to comply with ARRT's ethical standards and agree to abide by its rules and regulations.
Completing a certificate or associate's degree program in radiation therapy will afford students a wealth of opportunity as the job market for therapists in this field is expected to grow 14% over the next several years, which is much faster than the national average. Following completion, students will obtain certification from the ARRT and may elect to pursue a bachelor's degree to advance their career even further.