Most radiation therapists begin their career training by completing an associate's (2 years) or bachelor's (4 years) degree program in radiation therapy. Employers require an associate's degree in radiation therapy, but may prefer those with a bachelor's degree. Radiation therapists must be able to perform medical imaging procedures, including x-rays and CT scans. Because they are often standing for long hours, radiation therapists should be in good physical health. Candidates should have a high school diploma or GED certificate to enter a radiation therapy program.
Schools that offer radiation therapy programs commonly hold workshops for students. Workshops may address ethical issues in radiation therapy, patient care techniques or changes in radiation therapy technology. Some workshops may be taken for credit, while others are not associated with the radiation therapy degree program.
Most states require licensure for radiation therapists. A degree from an accredited program and certification is required for licensure.
Associate's Degree in Radiation Therapy
An associate's degree typically meets the minimum academic standards required by an employer. Students learn how to use radiation therapy equipment and gain hands-on knowledge through simulated medical situations. Associate's degree programs offer courses on:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Radiologic technology
- Medical imaging and processing
- Sectional pathology
Bachelor's Degree in Radiation Therapy
A bachelor's degree program expands on the basic courses and concepts taught in an associate's degree program. Students learn advanced patient care and radiation therapy techniques, while gaining more experience than in the 2-year program. Typically, radiation therapy bachelor's degree programs include courses on:
- Radiation equipment maintenance
- Advanced patient care concepts
- Ethical health care practices
- Radiation protection
- Biological aspects of radiation therapy
Most hospitals and radiation therapy clinics prefer to hire radiation therapists with at least one year of experience. Employers who hire entry-level radiation therapists with little or no professional experience may offer on-site workshops as part of an on-the-job training program. In these workshops, newly hired radiation therapists learn how an employer operates and conducts radiation therapy treatments. Some workshops also focus on healthcare collaboration for radiation therapists who work with a variety of other medical professionals.
Advanced positions with greater responsibilities often require therapists to have three or more years of experience. Radiation therapists typically gain professional experience by completing clinical practice opportunities in an accredited degree program.
Licenses and Certifications
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) maintains a database of accredited radiation therapy programs. To obtain licensure, which is required in most states, radiation therapists must complete an ARRT-approved degree program and pass a radiation therapy exam administered by the ARRT. Licensure requirements vary by state.
Certification from the ARRT, which is different from state licensure, is voluntary but preferred by many employers. To obtain ARRT certification, radiation therapists must complete an accredited program and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers patient care, radiation therapy processes and general health care procedures. In addition, radiation therapists must complete clinical practices to display proficiency in patient care and radiation equipment operation. Radiation therapists must renew certification each year.
The ARRT provides the most in-depth professional development opportunities for radiation therapists. The organization offers several publications, including an annual radiation therapy report that addresses trends and changes to the industry, as well as a certification handbook that provides information on professional requirements and standards. Radiation therapists can find information on networking and job opportunities, continuing education credits and professional radiation therapy research.
Aspiring radiation therapists can begin their training through associate's or bachelor's degree programs, with workshops sometimes being required for employment post-graduation. In most states, radiation therapists must also attain licensure through the ARRT.