Following a year with unprecedented clinical demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of career roles in health care are experiencing immense growth and present a strong career outlook moving forward. Health care career professionals in these positions play an important role in the care of patients across the country, who rely on them…
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How to Become a Radiation Therapist
Alternate Career Titles:
Radiation Technologist, Radiation Therapy Technician, Radiation Therapy Technologist (RTT)
Radiation Therapist Job Description: Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments
Radiation Therapist Salary (Annual): $80,160
Radiation Therapist Salary Range: $53,680 to $123,710
How Long to Become a Radiation Therapist: 2 years
Radiation Therapist Requirements: Associate’s Degree and Certification
Become a Radiation Therapist
The role of a Radiation Therapist includes treating patients diagnosed with cancer or other diseases by administering radiation treatments. Before entering this career, learners should make themselves aware of all pros and cons of radiation therapy. Their responsibilities include explaining treatment plans to patients and answering any questions they may have. Furthermore, Radiation Therapy Technicians (as they are also referred by) protect both the patient and themselves from improper exposure to radiation, and determine the exact area of the patient’s body which requires treatments.
These professionals then calibrate and operate the machinery necessary to treat the patient with radiation, and constantly monitor the patient’s condition in case of adverse reactions to the treatment. Lastly, keeping detailed records of all administered treatments is required of the Radiation Therapist.
Radiation Therapists need to have compassion and knowledge. They treat all ages, and all different types of cancers with radiation. This is why a Radiation Therapist must meet educational requirements to understand specifics on the radiation involved, and the types of cancers, and the how they effect the body and mind. Sometimes they are also involved in helping Physicians run QA checks.
“Being a Radiation Therapist is a very rewarding career where you get to treat cancer patients, get to know them on a personal level throughout treatment and develop a deep rapport with patients entire oncology team,” Raymond Glenn Fragassi II, ARRT, a Radiation Therapist practicing in Somerset, NJ, said. “Others should pursue this career because of the great pay, ever expanding career opportunities and minimal years of higher education.”
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Education & Training
To become a Radiation Therapy Technologist (RTT), a professional must obtain their Associate’s Degree in radiation therapy. They can also choose to pursue their Bachelor’s Degree for advancement purposes later. During these allied health career programs, professionals will enroll in courses designed to teach radiation therapy procedures and scientific theories stemming from human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science and research methodology.
“I myself received my Bachelor’s Degree in medical imaging, and I am certified in radiologic technology (x-ray) which allowed me apply to and complete a one year accelerated radiation therapy program at a different university,” Fragassi, who earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, said. “In some states, I know New York being one of them, you can receive an Associate’s Degree in radiation therapy and then sit for your board examination, however, some careers prefer or require a Bachelor’s Degree.”
Fragassi added that getting accepted into a radiation therapy program can definitely be challenging, and that the courses are competitive and time consuming. Yet, he notes that each program is different, and that a desired program’s curriculum and requirements should be thoroughly researched before enrolling.
“The biggest challenge of a radiation therapy program probably would have had to be balancing doing homework, studying for exams and going to class while still attending clinic and completing clinical hours at my programs associated hospital,” Fragassi stressed. “It’s not impossible, but it takes a hard work ethic with excellent time management skills.”
After completion of a degree program, RTTs must obtain the necessary license or certifications based on state requirements. To obtain a American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification, Radiation Therapists must pass an exam which focuses on radiation protection, quality assurance, treatment planning and delivery, clinical concepts in oncology and overall patient care.
In addition to this certification, some Radiation Therapists also pursue cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS) certifications.
“If you wanted to advance your career you could simply work your tail off and show your supervisor that you are trustworthy, knowledgeable, dependable and can take lead in most situations. This can earn you a promotion from a regular Radiation Therapist position to a shift lead radiation therapist,” Fragassi explained. “There’s even a Chief Radiation Therapist position that is looked at as the top Radiation Therapist in the department, and who works side-by-side with Oncologists and supervisors for whatever their department needs or is having issues with.”
Another way to advance in a career as a Radiation Therapist is to acquire additional education or certifications. Alternatively, some RTTs choose to further their careers by later becoming Medical Dosimetrists, professionals responsible for calculating the correct dose of radiation used in the treatment of cancer patients. Ultimately, becoming a Medical Dosimetrists only requires an additional certification in medical dosimetry.
“Again, all of this can be attained by hard work and being very knowledgeable of your department,” Fragassi explained. “However, if you wanted to look into a management position most, if not all, require a Master’s Degree. This can land you a promotion as a Shift Supervisor or Department Supervisor or even a teacher or Clinical Director at a college, if you wanted to go that route.”
Experience & Skills
“Skills needed for this career path would definitely be the ability to walk around and be on their feet most of the day, can lift at least 30 pounds and help with patient lifts/transport, a strong emotional basis, someone who works well with others as a team, keen eyes for detail and precision and of course and tech-savviness because you will be working with highly advanced medical machinery and applications on a day to day basis,” Fragassi listed.
To become a successful Radiation Therapist, professionals should also enter the career in healthcare feeling comfortable in operating large pieces of technological equipment and computers, as these technologies are key to administering radiation. Along with technical skills, RTTs should also possess strong interpersonal skills. Assisting oncology patients can be challenging at times, so being able to communicate with those dealing with high stress levels and emotions can be critical. Radiation Therapists also work closely with the Nurses (such as Certified Nursing Assistants, Licensed Practical Nurses and Nurse Practitioners) and Family Physicians to make sure all patient needs are addressed.
The character requirements of a career as a Radiation Therapists most importantly include being detail-oriented. As with many careers in healthcare, the treatments RTTs provide can greatly affect the overall well-being of their patients. Thus, closely following instructions and inputting exact measurements is crucial. If the incorrect amount of radiation is administered, the impact could be detrimental.
Additionally, because Radiation Therapists provide services to oncology patients, possessing empathy, patience and kindness are imperative. Imagine that a friend or family member was being treated for cancer. The patients of Radiation Technologists deserve to be treated with the same level of genuine care and consideration. This may be the toughest time in a patient’s life! A Radiation Therapist has the ability not only to help treat patients, but to offer them support and guidance as well.
“Someone wanting to go into this career path would need an outgoing personality and would need to work well with others as a team and maintain strong interpersonal skills and an emotional basis,” Fragassi explained. “This is because you will be working with dozens of cancer patients, ranging from children to elderly, that you will be treating every day. You also work side-by-side with Oncologists, other Radiation Therapists, Clinical Engineers, Dosimetrists, Anesthesiologists (for some pediatric patients) and Registered Nurses.”
“I would best describe the lifestyle of a Radiation Therapist as a rewarding and fulfilling career. Along with that, the pay and benefits are great and most places you do not need to work weekends or holidays because that time is needed for patients to recover and rest from their daily Monday through Friday treatment schedules,” Fragassi explained. “However, some hospitals do have on call therapists that may be needed for emergency cases on weekends.”
Additionally, most Radiation Therapists work full-time schedules and somewhat regular hours (because most radiation treatments are scheduled in advance). The scope of a career as a RTT is relatively stress free, but can be emotional at times due to the nature of oncology.
An important element in this field is to always follow safety protocol, as Radiation Therapists treat patients using radiation and radioactive materials. However, because RTTs usually stand in a separate room while the patient is undergoing treatment, they are not directly exposed to any harmful amounts of radiation. However, these professionals should always be aware of the risks involved in this career in healthcare. Awareness leads to the utmost precaution. Learn more about what a day in the life of a Radiation Therapist is like.
“Also, most of my work weeks I do work overtime as needed because working with such highly advanced medical machinery every day it does have its delays or occasional malfunction or error that can take minutes or hours to repair,” Fragassi said. “Also, since we are working with very sick cancer patients, who may need extra attention or time then is allotted for their treatment, it could put us behind schedule. With that being said, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything because it truly is an awesome career.”
There is no greater time to enter the growing career of a Radiation Therapist then now! Employment for this career in healthcare is projected to grow 9 percent over the next decade (BLS). Faster than the average for all occupations, this growth is a result of the increasing incidences of cancer (especially among the geriatric population). Although cancer research and treatments are constantly advancing, radiation therapy is still considered to be one of the most effective treatment measures, leading to greater demand for Radiation Therapists.
The states with the highest employment levels for Radiation Therapists were New York, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Furthermore, the top employing facilities were state, local and private hospitals, as well as the offices of Physicians and outpatient centers. Some RTTs also choose to be self-employed.
“The best way to go about finding employment would be to network with other radiation therapists or doctors that you work with in your clinical setting during your educational program. Most of the time, they can be used as a gateway to other careers elsewhere or even a career at the hospital or clinic you completed your clinical hours at,” Fragassi said. “Outside of that, it’s like any other career search. By using LinkedIn, social media, careers search sites or recruitment agencies to find yourself a career opening.”
He added that most of the time, a Radiation Therapist will need to “work their way up the ladder.” This can be done by working per diem at multiple facilities for through taking part-time positions to get a foot in the door somewhere. By doing this, a Radiation Therapist can become the first person who comes to mind when a full-time position opens.
“The earnings and benefits of this career path are great,” Fragassi said. “Considering most therapists have either their Bachelor’s or Associate’s Degree this is a very substantial pay grade. I’ve been working at my career for almost two years now and have received a raise and bonus each of those years.”
So, ultimately employment as a Radiation Therapist can not only be rewarding, but lucrative as well! The median annual wage for this career in healthcare is $80,160. Additionally, the lowest 10 percent earn less than $53,680, whereas the highest 10 percent earning more than $123,710.
The highest paying facilities employing RTTs were outpatient care centers, state, local and private hospitals and Physicians offices. The top paying states were California, New Jersey, Oregon, Florida and Washington.
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Society for Radiation Oncology is the premier radiation oncology society in the world for healthcare professionals who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. These medical professionals make up the radiation therapy treatment teams that are critical in the fight against cancer. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through professional education and training, support for clinical practice and health policy standards, advancement of science and research and advocacy.
“The organization that stands out the most to me and should definitely be joined is the American Society for Radiologic Technologists (ASRT),” Fragassi said. “They’re the leading association in medical imaging and radiation therapy community. It’s great for networking and they also offer magazines, lectures and events to attend to further network, grow your knowledge and obtain continuing education (CE) credits for you accreditation which are mandatory on a biennium basis.”
The American Society of Radiologic Technologists is the premier professional association of people working in medical imaging and radiation therapy. It’s mission is to advance and elevate the medical imaging and radiation therapy profession and to enhance the quality and safety of patient care.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists is the world’s largest organization offering credentials in medical imaging, intervention procedures, and radiation therapy. They certify and register technologists in a range of disciplines by overseeing and administering education, ethics and examination requirements.
- Research the career, career descriptions and reviews to establish a better understanding
- Gather questions about the career
- Career shadow at a local hospital for clinic in the oncology department to see how one operates
- Research educational programs that best fit a desired schedule/career aspirations
- Be sure that each program is accredited by The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
- Study hard and remained motivated and determined to succeed
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Raymond Glenn Fragassi II
Practice: Proton Therapy Clinic
Location: Somerset, NJ
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“My single biggest suggestion for anyone trying to get into this career path would be to manage your time wisely and keep plugging away. At times you’ll feel overwhelmed and as if this trek is impossible, but, I promise you it’ll all be worth it!”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The one mistake people make when trying to get into this career would have to be passing up opportunities. It will be very hard to get a full time career right out of school. The career market is competitive and turning down opportunities like per diem or part time careers is a mistake you’ll regret later. Experience is everything and everyone has to start somewhere.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“A great question to ask that people rarely do would be ‘What type of machines do you work with?’ Every clinic or hospital has a different type of linear accelerator or gantry that they work with. Make sure you know a little bit about each, if not, ask a lot of questions about them and how they function! I promise you, it will impress them.”
Why did you choose to become a Radiation Therapist?
“I chose to become a radiation therapist because every day I can go to work and know I made a difference in someone’s life. It’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling and being able to work with patients on a daily basis and really get to know them is absolutely great.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“What makes me successful, I would say, would be that I’m very self-motivated. As I stated earlier, through this journey you’ll feel like you can’t do it. From applying/interviewing with programs to balancing personal life with clinic/study/homework hours it seemed impossible at times but you’ll get through it. After graduating finding a career is tough and at times I felt defeated but my self motivation kept me plugging away. I career shadowed at any place I could just to get my foot in the door and talk to people for networking purposes and to see if there was a possible career opportunity. I called HR departments after applying and followed up with therapists/doctors I worked with in the past to see if they knew of any place hiring. I had to make a lot of sacrifices in my social and personal life but in the end, I found an awesome full time position at an incredible facility just a 45 minute commute from my home.”
Credentialing organization: The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists