How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

A bachelor degree, associate degree, or certificate in radiation therapy generally is required to work as a radiation therapist. Many States also require radiation therapists to be licensed. Employers usually require applicants to complete an associate or a bachelor degree program in radiation therapy. Individuals also may become qualified by completing an associate or a bachelor degree program in radiography, which is the study of radiological imaging, and then completing a twelve-month certificate program in radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy programs include core courses on radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. In addition, such programs often include courses on human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science, and research methodology. There are over 123 radiation therapy programs accredited by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and 32 States required radiation therapists to be licensed by a State accrediting board.

Licensing requirements vary by State, but many States require applicants to pass the ARRT certification examination. Further information on radiation therapist licensing is available from individual State licensing offices. Some States, as well as many employers, require that radiation therapists be certified by ARRT. To become ARRT-certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification examination.

The examination and accredited academic programs cover radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education. Candidates also must demonstrate competency in several clinical practices including patient care activities; simulation procedures; dosimetry calculations; fabrication of beam modification devices, low-volume, high-risk procedures, and the application of radiation.

ARRT certification is valid for one year, after which therapists must renew their certification. Requirements for renewal include abiding by the ARRT ethical standards, paying annual dues, and satisfying continuing education requirements. Continuing education requirements must be met every two years and include either the completion of 24 credits of radiation therapy-related courses or the attainment of ARRT certification in a discipline other than radiation therapy. Certification renewal, however, may not be required by all States or employers that require initial certification.

All radiation therapists need good communication skills because their work involves a great deal of patient interaction. Individuals interested in becoming radiation therapists should be psychologically capable of working with cancer patients. They should be caring and empathetic because they work with patients who are ill and under stress. They should be able to keep accurate, detailed records. They also should be physically fit because they work on their feet for long periods and lift and move disabled patients. With experience, therapists can advance to managerial positions.

Experienced radiation therapists may advance to manage radiation therapy programs in treatment centers or other health care facilities. Managers generally continue to treat patients while taking on management responsibilities. Other advancement opportunities include teaching, technical sales, and research. With additional training and certification, therapists also can become dosimetrists, who use complex mathematical formulas to calculate proper radiation doses.