Degree programs in radiation oncology are not generally available because radiation oncology is a specialty offered through post-M.D. residency training, but many schools offer associate's degrees in radiation therapy that qualify graduates for certification and employment as radiation therapists. These programs take about two years to complete. They cannot be offered totally online due to required lab courses and clinical experiences, but some general education courses and prerequisite courses may be available through distance learning.
In these hybrid programs, students get a foundation in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and the basics of health care, such as taking a patient's vital signs and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They study and receive hands-on training in cancer treatment, radiation procedures, safety and types of medical imaging.
Most states require that radiation therapists be licensed. Requirements vary, but generally they must have graduated from an accredited program and be certified by American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Students should make sure any degree program they are considering meets ARRT standards.
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Associate Degree in Radiation Therapy
Associate degree programs in radiation therapy provide students with the basic knowledge and skills to gain entry-level employment as radiation therapists. Training in radiation therapy procedures and principles is provided through classroom and laboratory instruction. In addition to didactic and clinical experiences, radiation therapy programs provide clinical externship opportunities in order to provide students with as much hands-on training as possible. Graduates of this type of program are prepared to sit for ARRT's national certification exam.
Information and Requirements
An associate degree program in radiation therapy typically requires 24 months of study and approximately 72 credit hours. Due to the didactic and clinical experience components, most of the core coursework and field experiences must be completed on-campus or in local medical facilities. However, some programs do allow students to complete some pre-requisite or introductory courses online via distance learning.
Online courses allow students to access lectures, assignments, course materials and exams using online learning platforms. Interactions with professors and classmates are facilitated via discussion boards and e-mail. Some programs may require an onsite lab.
Courses required for this major are usually taken in sequence to build upon the knowledge gained in each course. Radiation therapy specific courses incorporate key components from topic areas such as oncology, radiation protection, medical imaging and radiation physics. Online learning components are typically only offered for general education or introductory courses, such as the courses listed below.
Anatomy and Physiology
In this course, students are introduced to the physical and chemical makeup of the human body. Basics of skeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular and nervous systems are explored. Other topics covered include digestive and reproductive systems. Upon completion, student will be able to accurately discuss and recognize major body systems and organs.
This course discusses the healthcare profession including healthcare professionals and their interactions. Training in taking vitals, as well as CPR is offered.
Medical terminology courses train potential radiation therapists to decipher the basic prefixes, roots and suffixes that describe medical and surgical procedures and diagnostic specialties. Proper abbreviations and pronunciation are also included.
Graduates of an accredited degree program are prepared to become members of a medical radiation oncology team and provide radiation therapy to patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for radiation therapists were projected to increase by 14% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS listed the annual median income of radiation therapists as $80,220 in May 2015.
The BLS also reported in 2014 that most states required radiation therapists to obtain licensure through their state's accrediting board in order to practice. Although licensing requirements vary from state to state, many require candidates to pass the national ARRT certification exam. To qualify for certification, the ARRT requires applicants to complete an accredited degree program in radiation therapy, earn a passing score on the ARRT certification exam and adhere to all ARRT ethical standards. The ARRT certification is valid for one year and can be renewed by completing continuing education credits and paying annual dues.
Students wanting to enter the field of radiation oncology may not be able to get into an online program specifically in the field because specialization training is only offered as post-M.D. residency programs. Yet, they may get online training form an associate's degree program in radiation therapy.