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How Do I Become a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists are often called upon to treat cancer with radiation.
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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2014
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The decision to become a radiation therapist can be very exciting, allowing an individual to treat diseases with radiation, such as with cancer. There are several different paths that an individual can follow in their quest to become a radiation therapist, depending on where she lives and whether she wants to specialize: two-year hospital-based programs, two-year associate’s degree programs, and programs involving a baccalaureate degree. The pre-requisites vary from program to program. In addition, some individuals work for the baccalaureate degree, but then continue on to receive a graduate degree in radiation therapy. It is important to distinguish a radiation therapist who works closely with doctors in administering treatment from a radiation technician who maintains the machines.

The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), an agency for radiation therapists that is recognized by the United States Department of Education, lists the accredited programs for radiation therapy. An individual who wishes to become a radiation therapist can choose the kind of program and the state that he or she wishes to study in. A list of accredited schools and clinical programs is then generated to inform prospective students of their options.

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Selecting an accredited program is important for those who want to become a radiation therapist. Essential information and skills are learned through such programs. They will let a student perform a wide range of responsibilities that employers want their employees to possess. By choosing an accredited program, a student is eligible to become licensed in any of the 50 states – instead of only licensure in the state where she is a student.

Radiation therapy education involves spending some time in a classroom setting, working in a laboratory, and supervised clinical experience. Most accredited curricula included courses in medical ethics, mathematics, methods of care for a patient, health education, terminology of medical words, radiation physics, human function and structure, clinical radiation, radiation protection, pathology, radiobiology, oncology, technical radiation oncology, brachytherapy, medical imaging, and clinical dosimetry. This gives them a broad knowledge base and lets them decide if they want to specialize in a given area. Those that want to become a radiation therapist and truly succeed must have a willingness to help other, a compassionate nature, an attention to detail, an inclination towards the mechanical processes, an aptitude and interest in math and the physical sciences.

Most employers want the people they hire to have a certificate from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. In order to receive certification, a candidate must graduate from an accredited radiation therapy educational program and must pass a competency examination. It is a computer-based test that is offered several times throughout the year at various locations. Once the test is passed, those who graduate from an accredited program can call themselves registered radiation therapists. In some cases, a state’s licensure examination must be passed, too.

In Canada, the hospital-based radiation therapy programs are not available in some of the provinces, such as Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia. In the United Kingdom, there is a three-year program that must be taken and there are also master’s programs in therapeutic radiography. It is up to each individual to study the various kinds of programs and see what path she wants to take to become a radiation therapist.

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anon210242
Post 4

My son finished his degree and passed his boards to become a certified radiation therapist six month ago. Unfortunately hospitals and clinics are looking for people with one to three years, at least, of experience. Is there any way he can get more experience by volunteering at a site? He'd be willing to do just about anything so he can be more experienced in this job.

galen84basc
Post 3

Thanks so much for this information on how to become a radiation therapist! I have to write a paper on different jobs in the healthcare industry, and I chose to do it on radiation therapists thinking that there would be a lot of information, but you would be surprised how little concrete information there is out there on this subject.

Most of the information has to do with radiology rather than radiation therapy, so I was really glad that I found this info. I would definitely recommend this article to anyone thinking about getting into this career.

Oh, I did have one question though -- how long does it take to become a radiation therapist? Is there a set time, or does it vary by state or program? I just need to add in a little paragraph about that in my project.

Thanks!

pharmchick78
Post 2

@earlyforest -- What you said is all correct, but I think that you may be confusing the job of radiation therapist and radiologist.

Radiologists give and read X-rays, radiation therapists are more involved in treating people for cancer, etc.

But you're right about the fact that becoming a radiation therapist is usually a good career move. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cancer on the horizon, so it's likely that radiation therapists will be in demand for a long time.

EarlyForest
Post 1

Just a note -- becoming a radiation therapist is a great idea for those who don't want to become a doctor or nurse, but still want to work in medicine, since you really are on the front lines as it were without having all the massive responsibilities (and paperwork) that many doctors have.

Also, job prospects for radiologists are really good, which just shows you how strong the industry is -- in fact, radiology was one of the only industries that continued to hire people throughout the height of the "Great Recession".

Just a little extra information to keep in mind...

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