Programs offering associate's degrees in radiation oncology technology train students to provide basic care for cancer patients. Students in these 2-year programs study patient positioning, equipment operation, anatomy and safety practices. They may learn about administrative office duties as well. Students in 4-year bachelor's take lecture-based courses and gain hands-on experience with linear accelerators and CT scanners. Earning a bachelor's degree can lead to mandatory state licensure as a radiation therapist.
Associate Degree Programs in Radiation Oncology Technology
An associate degree program in radiation oncology technology teaches students the fundamentals of accompanying an oncologist on rounds and standard radiation safety practices, as well as clerical duties like making appointments for patients and tracking supplies. Some programs require that students participate in the Patient Care Assistant (PCA) course.
Career options for graduates of an associate degree program in radiation oncology technology include entry-level positions, such as oncology technician, oncologist assistant or radiation therapy assistant. Similar associate degree programs that offer oncology technology training include the Associate of Science (A.S.) in Radiation Therapy Technology and A.S. in Radiation Science Technology. Admission to associate degree programs in oncology is typically very competitive. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as meet specific coursework requirements. Most programs consider high school coursework, as well as college-level general education prerequisite courses in science, math, English and social sciences.
In addition to internship experience, associate degree level training in oncology includes courses in elementary positioning, radiologic patient care and radiation therapy. Additional core coursework includes human anatomy and physiology, first aid, emergency procedures, physics and courses similar to the following:
- Radiation biology
- Medical radiography
- Contemporary ethical and medical issues
- Clinical oncology
- Sectional anatomy
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Bachelor's Degree Programs in Radiation Therapy
A student in a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Radiation Therapy program focuses on advanced methods of treating cancer in the human body by use of radiation therapy. Students learn to monitor a patient's physical and mental status during radiation or chemotherapy treatments, develop treatment plans with a radiation oncologist, communicate effectively and keep detailed records of the overall treatment. Students earning a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy are also prepared to work alongside radiation physicists. Admissions requirements for radiation therapy bachelor's degree programs usually include prerequisite general education and pre-professional coursework in mathematics and science. Some programs also require students to submit letters of reference, any applicable work or internship experience in radiation or oncology and proof of ability to perform the technical requirements of most radiation therapy positions.
Coursework for a bachelor's degree in oncology and radiation technology program includes instruction in CT scans, tumor location, linear accelerator usage and radiation dosimetry. The following are examples of courses in a traditional Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy curriculum:
- Oncogenic pathology
- Law for healthcare workers
- Treatment planning methods
- Diagnostic ultrasound
- Technical radiation oncology
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
Radiation therapist positions are available for graduates of associate and bachelor's degree programs that offer oncology or radiation therapy training. Those with work experience and a bachelor's degree can advance to managerial and supervisory roles. Radiation therapists can work with oncologists in hospital environments and employment is expected to grow in the field by 14% from 2014-2024, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The BLS also notes that the mean annual salary for radiation therapists was $84,460 as of May 2015.
Professional Certification and Continuing Education
Most states require that radiation therapists be licensed; the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), an American Medical Association-recognized national certification board, gives licensing examinations. The ARRT certification remains valid for one year and students who wish to renew their certification will need to take courses in radiation therapy.
Radiation therapist or oncologist technologists can begin their training by earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field. It is important to note that depending on what state students live in, they must be licensed.