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Careers in Radiation Biology: Options and Requirements

Radiation biology requires a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the degree requirements, job duties and certifications to see if this is the right career for you.

A career in radiation biology can include work as a medical physicist, radiation biologist, nuclear medicine technologist and radiation therapist. All of these professionals work within the medical field, using radiotechnology to treat patients. They require specialized training and may need a license or certification. t

Essential Information

Radiation biologists study the effects of various types of radiation on living things. Careers in radiation biology are chiefly available in healthcare, private industries or government facilities. Employers typically require formal education, licensure and certification for radiation biology employees.

Required Education Associate's degree or bachelor's degree for entry level jobs, graduate degree for advanced positions
Other Requirements Internship, work experience and/or certification, depending on the position
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% (radiation therapist)*
Average Salary (2015) $84,460 (radiation therapist)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Options

There are various career options in radiation biology, including medical physicist, radiation biologist, nuclear medicine technologist and radiation therapist. Read below for more information on these job titles.

Medical Physicist

Medical physicists use radiation biology and physics to diagnose and treat radiation oncology patients. They use advanced knowledge of radiation interaction and physics to consult with medical professionals on the appropriate amount of radiation exposure and dosing for cancer patients. Medical physicists also participate in research for new quality control measures, as well as new radiation devices and procedures. Payscale.com reports that medical physicists made a median annual salary of $128,589 as of October 2016.

Requirements of a Medical Physicist

A medical physicist must hold a graduate degree in medical physics, radiation biology or a related field that includes coursework in clinical research, radiation therapy and radiation safety. In addition to a graduate program, medical physicists must complete practical training through a formal residency program or gain work experience in a hospital.

Medical physicists working within radiation oncology may become certified through the American Board of Radiology. Certifications are available in therapeutic radiologic physics, diagnostic radiologic physics and medical nuclear physics.

Radiation Biologist

Radiation biologists examine the interaction between body systems and radiation. They conduct advanced research into the role radiation can play in diseases such as cancer. Radiation biologists often work in private research facilities, academic institutions and government facilities.

Requirements for Radiation Biologists

A biologist must complete a Ph.D. program in radiation biology or a related field to conduct original research in the field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They must also possess a strong understanding of cellular and molecular systems, as well as radiological sciences. Radiation biologists who interact with patients may be required to possess a Doctor of Medicine and licensure, stated the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Nuclear medicine technologists purify radionuclides into substances known as radiopharmaceuticals, which are drugs that are given to patients to pinpoint troubled areas in their tissues and organs. Technologists monitor activity of the drugs in a patient's body with diagnostic equipment. They may also be responsible for analyzing specimens. Nuclear medicine technologists work under the supervision of nuclear physicians. Jobs for nuclear medicine technologists are expected to increase by 2% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. The average annual salary, as of May 2015 according to the BLS, was $74,990.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Requirements

Careers in nuclear medicine require the completion of an associate or bachelor's degree program. Certificate programs are also available. Coursework is focused on radiation safety, quality control and microbiology. Nuclear medicine technologists must also gain state licensure.

Professional certification is available for those who wish to advance their career. The primary certifier is the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. To receive certification one must meet educational and ethical requirements, as well as pass an examination.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapists use machines to deliver radiation to a specific area of the body to treat certain types of cancers. Radiation therapists are responsible for patient care and treatment plans, as well as machine operation. In addition to monitoring a patient's physical well-being, radiation therapists must monitor and promote a positive emotional well-being. They work under the supervision of a radiation oncologist and dosimetrists, physicians who calculate the specific radiation dosing to treat patients. The BLS predicts positions for radiation therapists to increase by 14% between 2014 and 2024. Also according to the BLS as of May 2015, the average wage for radiation therapists was $84,460 a year.

Radiation Therapy Requirements

Radiation therapists are required to complete postsecondary education. According to the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, programs in radiation therapy are available at the certificate, associate and bachelor's levels. Within the programs, students gain focused training in radiation biology and health sciences, along with hands-on practical training in a clinical setting.

In addition to postsecondary education, prospective radiation therapists are typically required to be certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Certification typically requires the completion of a formal education program and passing a certification examination covering treatment planning and delivery, radiation oncology and quality assurance. A clinical component is also included.

Radiation technology is most often used in therapy and treatments. Specialized machines, diagnosis equipment, patients and clinical settings are part of the life of a professional in the field of radiation technology. An undergraduate degree may be enough for a start, but a graduate degree is almost always required for advanced positions.


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