Essential Information for Becoming a Radiation Therapist
What is a radiation therapist? A radiation therapist is a trained medical professional who uses radiation as a therapy for certain diseases. Most frequently, radiation is used to kill the cells of a cancerous tumor. Working alongside doctors and nurses, radiation therapists provide patients with life-saving cures to cancer and other diseases. Before becoming a radiation therapist, you must receive the proper training.
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, and you can check with your state's licensure board to determine the specific requirements. Generally, a degree from an accredited program and certification is required for licensure.
Radiation Therapist Education Requirements
How long does it take to become a radiation therapist? The first step in radiation therapist training is to earn a college degree. The answer to the question of how long is radiation therapy school will vary based on the type of degree that you choose to complete. The two degree options are:
- Associates Degree in Radiation Therapy: This degree takes only two years to complete, although many employers prefer a Bachelor's Degree.
- Bachelor's Degree in Radiation Therapy: This degree requires four years of education, but the extra time may be worth it because many employers prefer radiation therapists who have this type of degree.
You can read more about both of these degrees below.
Associate's Degree in Radiation Therapy
An associate's degree typically meets the minimum academic standards for radiation therapy school 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 radiation therapist classes 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 radiation therapy prerequisites like:
- Radiation equipment maintenance
- Advanced patient care concepts
- Ethical health care practices
- Radiation protection
- Biological aspects of radiation therapy
Radiation Therapist Salary and Job Outlook
|Median Salary (2019)*||$85,560|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||7%|
|Education Level Required||Associate's or Bachelor's Degree|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The table above depicts some general information on the salary and job outlook for radiation therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics dataset from November 2020, the median pay for radiation therapists in 2019 was $85,560 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that jobs in radiation therapy will grow by 7% in the decade from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than average. Of course, the salary you can expect to receive as a radiation therapist will vary based on your years of experience and your education level. PayScale.com reports that the lowest 10% of radiation therapists earn $26.49 per hour, while the highest 10% earn upwards of $47.84 per hour. The radiation therapist salary with associate degree will likely be on the lower end of this range, while a radiation therapist salary with bachelor degree will probably be on the upper end of that range.
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 radiation therapy 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. You can also gain experience working as an entry-level radiation therapist under the supervision of a more experienced professional.
Radiation Therapist 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.
Continuing Education for Radiation Therapists
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 through radiation therapy classes, 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.