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Radiation Therapist: Job Description & Career Requirements

A radiation therapist primarily works with patients being treated for cancer. She or he records a patient's medical information, locates tumors using x-rays and develops treatment plans within the guidelines set by a supervising radiologist and others on the cancer patient's oncologic team. Read on to learn more details about this profession.

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Career Definition for a Radiation Therapist

A radiation therapist uses beams of radiated light to locate and treat cancerous tumors according to the plan prescribed by a radiologist and oncologist. They are also responsible for the safety of their patients, for observing and documenting any reactions to treatment, updating charts and answering any radiology related questions a patient might have. It is also the duty of a radiation therapist to maintain equipment and follow all safety regulations regarding radiation exposure.

Education Degree programs available in radiation therapy or radiography with an extra focus in radiation therapy
Job Skills Empathy, physical fitness, careful attention to safety procedures
Median Salary (2015)* $80,220 for radiation therapists
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for radiation therapists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Most employers require that job applicants have completed a 2- or 4-year program in radiation therapy or a degree in radiography combined with a 1-year program in radiation therapy. Topics studied in these programs include physics, algebra, computer science and human anatomy. In 2013, more than 30 states required that radiation therapists pass state board exams to acquire licensing. In addition, some states and/or employers also require that radiation therapists be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. ARRT certification must be renewed every year.

Skills Required

Because radiation therapists work with cancer patients of all ages they must be empathetic to the suffering of others, yet maintain a professional demeanor. Those seeking a career in radiotherapy must also be able to move or lift patients who may be disabled by their illness. Due to the potentially hazardous material they work with, radiation therapists must be meticulous in following guidelines for safety procedures.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014 projects opportunities in radiotherapy to grow much faster than average until 2024, with 14% growth predicted. The aging population and the rising rates of some types of cancer unfortunately ensure a need for radiation therapists. The Bureau also reports the median annual income of a radiation therapist as $80,220 in 2015.

Alternate Career Options

Listed below are some other careers in health care:

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

With an associate's degree and possible required certification, these health providers are ready to assess medical conditions without the use of radiation, using imaging equipment with sound waves. A much faster than average increase in jobs, at 26%, was projected by the BLS, from 2014-2024. These sonographers earned a median salary, in 2015, of $68,970 per year, the BLS reported.

Registered Nurse

For those interested in working with a wide range of patient care and education, this career might be a good choice. The educational path ranges from a nursing diploma to associate's or bachelor's degree. Licensing is also required. The BLS expected faster than average employment expansion of 16% during the 2014-2024 decade. In 2015, registered nurses earned a median annual wage of $67,490, according to the BLS.

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