Radiation Technician Education Requirements and Career Information
The title of radiation technician can apply to multiple career fields, such as radiation protection technicians, radiation therapists and radiologic technologists. Preparation for these jobs can range from on-the-job training to a college education and might require federally mandated training. Some professionals require state licensure and could pursue voluntary national certification.
Radiation Therapists and Radiologic Technologists
Students interested in becoming a radiation therapist or radiologic technologist can choose from certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in these fields. To ensure standardized training, students might want to consider programs approved by either the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), both of which accredit programs in radiation therapy or radiography. Graduating from an accredited program is often a requirement for state licensure.
Accredited programs train students through instruction, laboratory sessions and clinical experiences. Courses focus on the procedures and equipment used in the field. They include topics in medical terminology, medical imaging technologies and radiographic positioning. Students who meet satisfactory achievement levels frequently participate in clinical rotations through a healthcare facility. As students advance through a program, experiences become more intensive and could involve added responsibility.
Radiologic technologists perform medical procedures utilizing diagnostic imaging equipment. Radiation therapists operate the machines that dispense cancer treatments to oncology patients. Both of these professionals spend time with patients, either explaining procedures or monitoring progress during a treatment. While radiation therapists work primarily with cancer patients, radiation technologists use x-rays and other imaging equipment to diagnose patients with a variety of conditions, such as broken bones, dental issues or tumors. Radiation technologists could choose to concentrate on a specific form of imaging, such as mammography or computed tomography.
Licensure and Certification
Federal laws regulate mandatory training for individuals who work with radiologic equipment, though each state specifies the requirements regarding licensure for professionals in this field. The majority require radiation therapists and radiological technologists to earn a state license. The ARRT offers nationally recognized certification exams for both fields that could be used by some states for licensure.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment opportunities for radiation therapists were projected to increase 24%, and jobs for radiologic technologists were anticipated to increase 21% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). Both occupations were expected to benefit from the expansion of the healthcare industry and improvements in cancer treatment. In May 2012, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of a radiation therapist was $77,560, and radiation technologists and technicians earned $54,620.
Radiation Protection Technicians
The educational requirements for entry-level radiation protection technicians (RPTs) vary according to the responsibilities and technical skills required for a given job. Some positions provide on-the-job training, while others require either a certificate or associate's degree in radiation safety, radiation technology or a related field of study.
The curricula for these programs typically require significant coursework in math and science. Courses specific to radiation include radiation safety, contamination control, nuclear or power plant systems and radiological chemistry. In addition to classes, students often engage in laboratory sessions and internships that allow them to practice techniques in radiation safety, hazardous material containment and other control procedures.
RPTs can operate under a number of different titles, including nuclear monitoring technicians or hazardous materials removal workers. These individuals monitor radiation levels as well as identify leaks or potential hazards and remove them. The procedures they use typically depend on the level of an emergency. In serious cases, RPTs could have to organize an evacuation of a contaminated area. They might also specialize in a particular expertise, such as decontamination, emergency response or storage and disposal.
Radiation protection technicians can use a number of measuring tools on the job, such as spectrometers, radiation detectors and gamma counters. They might inspect areas around a nuclear facility or nearby construction sites and runoff areas. These individuals also analyze soil, air or water samples to determine the extent of a contamination.
Those who store and remove hazardous waste must obtain a federal license through the Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA). The mandatory 40-hour training course leading to licensure covers topics in protective gear and equipment, hazardous materials and decontamination. Hazardous removal professionals who work with nuclear and radiation materials must also complete three months of additional courses through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These courses outline the government regulations involving safe removal of nuclear waste and radiation.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS reported that employment opportunities for nuclear technicians, the category that includes nuclear monitoring technicians, would increase 15%, and hazardous waste removal workers were expected to see a 14% growth rate from 2012-2022. The renewed interest in nuclear power was cited as a major factor for the anticipated increases. In May 2012, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of a nuclear technician was $69,060, while hazardous materials workers made $37,590.
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