Radiation therapists play an important role in the cancer treatment process, working closely with radiation oncologists, nurses, dosimetrists and physicists to provide the most effective care possible. They assist in simulation and treatment planning procedures to clearly define the area to be treated, administer radiation therapy treatments, monitor and assess the patient throughout each treatment, and provide patient support and education throughout the course of treatment. Radiation therapist, Sara Digilio says the therapist is the one who has the frontline contact with patients. “The nurses and the doctors see them once a week. But the therapists see them every day. And you have to know what kind of side effects to look for and what their skin should or shouldn’t be doing, what their internal organs should or shouldn’t be doing, and if there is a serious problem – to recognize that.”
Radiation treatments are either curative or palliative. “Palliative means that we can help the symptoms, but we can’t cure the cancer,” explains Digilio. “You can’t go into it if you think that you’re going to get wrapped up in the sad part of it. You have to think about the fact that you’ve made their life better while they were here. You’re giving them back to their family for the extra three months or the extra years, or extra 30 years. There’s that, too.”
When asked what it’s like to work in cancer treatment, Digilio had this to say: “The people that are in radiation therapy are amazing. Number one, the staff that you work with are amazing. And, number two, the patients are unbelievable.” Digilio said one patient sends her son a birthday card every year, “because his birthday fell on my son’s birthday. And so he sends my son a birthday card every single year. It’s amazing. You just can’t find that everywhere.”
- Hospitals /Cancer treatment centers
- Physician offices
- Outpatient care centers
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
Most radiation therapists work in hospitals. Daily work requires a significant amount of lifting to help patients get on and off treatment tables, and therapists spend much of their time on their feet. Working with cancer patients requires emotional stability and maturity.
Radiation therapists generally work a 5-day, 40-hour week, and unlike workers in many healthcare occupations, they normally only work during the day. Because they work around radioactive materials, radiation therapists must follow standard safety procedures to prevent overexposure.
Employment of radiation therapists is expected to increase 27 percent through the year 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The growing elderly population is expected to cause an increase in the number of people needing treatment. In addition, as radiation technology becomes safer and more effective, it will be prescribed more often.
- Ability to work with a variety of people
- Caring and empathetic
- Psychologically capable of working with cancer patients
- Ability to apply theory of radiation biology in a clinical setting
- Ability to see differences in images and adapt the treatment accordingly
- Ability to handle a variety of activities, keep accurate records, make judgments based on data, and work within precise standards of measurements
- Physically fit to handle working on their feet for long periods and to lift and move patients
A bachelor’s degree is generally required. Students who have completed an accredited Radiologic Technology program can complete a 12-month program in Radiation Therapy. Radiation therapy programs include core coursework on radiaiton therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them, as well as working in a clinical setting under the supervision of certified radiation technologists and radiation oncologists. Radiation therapists can attain additional training and certification, on-the-job, to become dosimetrists, who use complex mathetmatical formulas to calculate proper radiation doses.
To become certified in radiation therapy, an individual must first complete a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology and pass the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification exam. After completed the Radiation Therapy course of study, they may become certified by passed the national certification exam.
Programs in Nebraska
- University of Nebraska Medical Center – Omaha (Bachelor’s)
Related / Links
Other radiology-related careers:
- Cardiac sonographer/Vascular sonographer
- Diagnostic medical sonographer
- Invasive cardiovascular technologist
- Nuclear medicine technologist
- Radiologic technologist
Other careers that administer medical treatment to patients include:
For information on careers in radiation therapy:
For information on accredited programs and the national certification exam:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Radiation Technologists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov