Radiation therapists plan and administer treatments, run machines and keep records. To get started, you'll need a 2-year or 4-year associate's or bachelor's degree. If you're a trained x-ray technician, you can become a radiation therapist by studying for an advanced, 1-year certificate. Graduates will need to gain certification and sometimes licensure to work as radiation therapists. Some courses may be found online. Applicants to these programs must have completed a high school physics course.
Associate of Science Degree in Radiation Therapy
With continuous study, an Associate of Science degree in radiation therapy can be completed in as little as two years. Programs may require supervised clinical practice in a hospital setting.
Some 2-year colleges design programs that make it easier to transfer to 4-year institutions, but graduates are qualified to begin working in a professional capacity after taking the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam and, in the 32 states that require it, acquiring a license from the states' accrediting boards.
Programs stress the application of the physical and life sciences to radiation therapy. Medical ethics may be the subject of one entire course. Students also learn to keep detailed treatment records. Other possible course topics may include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Introduction to radiation therapy
- Patient care
- Medical imaging
- Operating radiation therapy equipment
- Radiation safety procedures
Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy
This degree program may be overseen by the school of health within a postsecondary institution or by a university-affiliated medical school. Students in a radiation therapy program develop clinical competence in radiation science and cancer treatment while honing communications and problem-solving skills. Programs usually take four years to complete and require supervised clinical work in nearby hospitals.
Introductory courses give an overview of radiation therapy and patient care. Course topics also include:
- Biology of radiation therapy
- Physics of radiation
- Human anatomy
- Radiation safety
- Administration of radiation-therapy programs
Radiation Therapy Advanced Certificate
Certificates are geared toward training graduates of accredited radiography, radiologic or nuclear medicine programs to get the clinical skills and knowledge to pass the ARRT national certification exam. Programs are generally completed in one year of full-time study, and programs are often limited to fall enrollment.
Coursework specifically targets radiation therapy. Course topics may include:
- Introduction to radiation therapy
- Radiation principles
- Radiation therapy physics
- Quality assurance in radiation therapy
Salary Info and Employment Outlook
The median annual salary for radiation therapists was $80,220 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), (www.bls.gov). The BLS also projects that during the decade 2014-2024, growth in the aging population will be one factor fueling an increased need for healthcare workers. Openings for jobs as radiation therapists will grow by 14%.
The highest-paying employers for radiation therapists, according to the BLS, were employment services; outpatient care centers; specialty hospitals; colleges, universities, and professional schools; and medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Radiotherapy degree programs are available at the associate's and bachelor's level, with advanced certificate programs also an option for experienced x-ray technicians. These programs look at topics such as radiation principles, radiobiology, the physics of radiation and more.