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Radiation Therapist

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Radiation therapy is another great allied health career option, in the field of oncology. Radiation therapists specialize in administering doses of radiation to treat cancerous growths in patients. The radiation, in various forms, and delivered via various methods, helps to shrink the tumor. Learn more about this rewarding career, and how to become a radiation therapist.

Where Radiation Therapists Work:

Radiation therapists may be employed by hospitals, or they may work in cancer treatment centers most commonly. Radiation therapists often work as part of a cancer treatment team including an oncologist, nurses, medical imaging professionals, and more.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a career in radiation therapy requires at least an associate's degree, and sometimes a bachelor's degree.

Additionally, one must complete an accredited training program in radiation therapy, which often includes a 12-month certification program. The education program includes training in a variety of core competencies including "human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science, and research methodology."

You must obtain a state license to practice, if you live in one of the 32 states requiring it.

Additionally, certification by the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists is required by most employers. This is obtained by passing the ARRT's certification exam.

What Do Radiation Therapists Do? Brief Overview:

Radiation therapists use high tech machines, called linear accelerators, to administer beams of radiation directly to the patient's tumor.

First, the radiation therapist must identify the location of the tumor using imaging equipment, such as a CT scanner. According to the BLS, this is called "simulation".

Once the tumor location has been pinpointed, the radiation therapist operates the linear accelerator from a separate room where they are not exposed to the radiation. Each treatment session is about 30 minutes, and is delivered regularly, sometimes daily, over the course of several weeks.

During the course of radiation therapy, the radiation therapist monitors the health of the patient and adjusts for any serious side effects. According to the BLS, this includes keeping detailed medical records. Additionally, because patients are often under emotional and physical stress, radiation therapists must have exceptional interpersonal skills, and be able to help offer emotional support during a difficult time in a patient's life.

Salaries for Radiation Therapists:

The median salary for radiation therapists is $66,170, according to the BLS.

Those who work in outpatient care centers often earn higher, averaging around $73,000 annually. Hospital-employed radiation therapists earn less, averaging about $63,500 per year.

With the prevalence of cancer in the population, radiation therapy is a very stable career with an excellent outlook. The BLS projects a 25% growth in the field in the decade ending in 2016 - which is much higher than average growth in any career.

Professional Associations for Radiation Therapists:

For more information about certification, licensure, and job postings, specific to radiation therapy, professional associations are always an excellent resource for medical professionals.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Radiation Therapists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos299.htm (visited August 26, 2009).
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