Radiation Therapists

Summary

radiation therapists image
Radiation therapists treat patients with cancer and other diseases with machines called linear accelerators.
Quick Facts: Radiation Therapists
2012 Median Pay $77,560 per year
$37.29 per hour
Entry-Level Education Associate’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 19,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 24% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 4,500

What Radiation Therapists Do

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Work Environment

Radiation therapists work in hospitals, offices of physicians, and outpatient centers. Most radiation therapists work full time.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Most radiation therapists complete programs that lead to an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage for radiation therapists was $77,560 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of radiation therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,500 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of radiation therapists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about radiation therapists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Radiation Therapists Do

Radiation therapists
Radiation therapists work in healthcare facilities or cancer treatment centers.

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Duties

Radiation therapists typically do the following:

  • Explain treatment plans to the patient and answer questions about treatment
  • Follow safety procedures to protect the patient and themselves from overexposure to radiation
  • Examine machines to make sure they are safe and working properly
  • X ray the patient to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
  • Check computer programs to make sure the machine will give the correct dose of radiation to the appropriate area of the patient's body
  • Operate the machine to treat the patient with radiation
  • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
  • Keep detailed records of treatment

Machines called linear accelerators are used to deliver radiation therapy. These machines direct high-energy x rays at specific cancer cells in a patient's body, shrinking or removing them. 

Radiation therapists are part of the oncology team that treats patients with cancer. They often work with the following specialists:

  • Radiation oncologists, physicians who specialize in radiation therapy
  • Oncology nurses, registered nurses who specialize in caring for patients with cancer
  • Radiation physicists, physicists who calibrate linear accelerators

Work Environment

Radiation therapists
Radiation therapists keep detailed records of the treatment given to patients.

Radiation therapists held about 19,100 jobs in 2012. Most therapists work in hospitals, offices of physicians, and outpatient centers.

Radiation therapists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients. Because they work with radiation and radioactive material, radiation therapists must follow safety procedures to make sure that they are not exposed to a potentially harmful amount of radiation. These procedures usually require therapists to stand in a different room while the patient undergoes radiation procedures.                                   

Work Schedules

Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists
Radiation therapists must be licensed in most states.

Most radiation therapists complete programs that lead to an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

Education

Although candidates may qualify by completing a 12-month certificate program, employers usually prefer to hire applicants who have an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. These programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Radiation therapists must follow exact instructions and input exact measurements to make sure the patient is exposed to the correct amount of radiation.

Interpersonal skills. Radiation therapists work closely with patients. It is important that therapists be comfortable interacting with people who may be going through physical and emotional stress.

Physical stamina. Radiation therapists must be able to be on their feet for long periods and be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

Technical skills. Radiation therapists work with computers and large pieces of technological equipment, so they must be comfortable operating those devices.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed; requirements vary by state. To be licensed, radiation therapists must graduate from an accredited radiation therapy program and be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To become ARRT certified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers radiation protection and quality assurance, clinical concepts in radiation oncology, treatment planning, treatment delivery, and patient care and education.

Advancement

Experienced radiation therapists may advance to manage radiation therapy programs in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Managers generally continue to treat patients while taking on managerial responsibilities. Other advancement opportunities include teaching, technical sales, and research. With additional training and certification, therapists can become dosimetrists. Dosimetrists are responsible for calculating the correct dose of radiation that is used in the treatment of cancer patients.

Pay

Radiation Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2012

Radiation therapists

$77,560

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$73,410

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for radiation therapists was $77,560 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,720, and the top 10 percent earned more than $113,810.

Most radiation therapists work full time. Because radiation therapy procedures are usually planned in advance, radiation therapists keep a regular work schedule.

Job Outlook

Radiation Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Radiation therapists

24%

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

20%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of radiation therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,500 new jobs over the 10-year period.

The risk of cancer increases as people age, so an aging population will increase demand for radiation therapists. Early diagnosis and the development of more sophisticated treatment techniques will also increase employment.

Employment projections data for Radiation Therapists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Radiation therapists

29-1124 19,100 23,600 24 4,500 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of radiation therapists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Dental hygienists

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

Associate’s degree $70,210
Diagnostic medical sonographers

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.

Associate’s degree $60,350
Nuclear medicine technologists

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists use a scanner to create images of various areas of a patient’s body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients undergoing the scans. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.

Associate’s degree $70,180
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants and orderlies help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

See How to Become One $24,400
Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants (sometimes called PTAs) and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

See How to Become One $39,430
Radiologic technologists

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.

Associate’s degree $55,910
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Associate’s degree $65,470
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Radiation Therapists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm (visited September 03, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014