Radiation Therapy Training Programs and Requirements

Using advanced medical imaging and radiation equipment, radiation therapists administer treatments to patients with cancer. Radiation therapists work with oncologists and radiation physicists to develop treatment plans and oversee radiation therapy procedures. An associate's degree or bachelor's degree, along with licensure or certification, is required to become a radiation therapist.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Radiation therapists should have a high school diploma or GED certificate. Most radiation therapists begin their career training by competing an associate's or bachelor's degree program in radiation therapy. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) maintains a database of accredited radiation therapy programs.

Radiation therapists should have good communication and organization skills in order to interact with patients and work successfully with radiation oncologists, technicians and other medical professionals. They must be able to perform medical imaging procedures, including x-rays and CT scans. Because they are often standing for long hours, radiation therapists should be in good physical health.

Formal Education

Most employers require an associate's degree in radiation therapy, but may prefer a bachelor's degree. Both degree paths provide students with pertinent radiation therapy knowledge.

Associate of Science

An associate's degree typically meets the minimum academic standards required by an employer. Students learn how to use radiation therapy equipment and gain hands-on knowledge through simulated medical situations. Associate's degree programs last two years and offer courses on:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiologic technology
  • Medical imaging and processing
  • Sectional pathology

Bachelor of Science

A bachelor's degree program expands on the basic courses and concepts taught in an associate's degree program. Students learn advanced patient care and radiation therapy techniques, while gaining more experience than in the 2-year program. Typically, radiation therapy bachelor's degree programs include courses on:

  • Radiation equipment maintenance
  • Advanced patient care concepts
  • Ethical health care practices
  • Radiation protection
  • Biological aspects of radiation therapy

Job Experience

Most hospitals and radiation therapy clinics prefer to hire radiation therapists with at least one year of experience. Advanced positions with greater responsibilities often require therapists to have three or more years of experience. Radiation therapists typically gain professional experience by completing clinical practice opportunities in an accredited degree program.

Licenses and Certifications

In 2009, radiation therapists were required to be licensed in 33 states, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). To obtain licensure in these states, radiation therapists must complete an ARRT-approved degree program and pass a radiation therapy exam administered by the ARRT. Licensure requirements vary by state.

Certification from the ARRT, which is different from state licensure, is voluntary but preferred by many employers. To obtain ARRT certification, radiation therapists must complete an accredited program and pass the ARRT certification exam. The exam covers patient care, radiation therapy processes and general health care procedures. In addition, radiation therapists must complete clinical practices to display proficiency in patient care and radiation equipment operation. Radiation therapists must renew certification each year.

Workshops and Seminars

Vocational schools, colleges and universities with radiation therapies commonly hold workshops for students. Workshops may address ethical issues in radiation therapy, patient care techniques or changes in radiation therapy technology. Some workshops may be taken for credit, while others are not associated with the radiation therapy degree program.

Employers who hire entry-level radiation therapists with little or no professional experience may offer on-site workshops as part of an on-the-job training program. In these workshops, newly hired radiation therapists learn how an employer operates and conducts radiation therapy treatments. Some workshops also focus on health care collaboration for radiation therapists, who work with a variety of other medical professionals.

Additional Professional Development

The ARRT provides the most in-depth professional development opportunities for radiation therapists. The organization offers several publications, including an annual radiation therapy report that addresses trends and changes to the industry, as well as a certification handbook that provides information on professional requirements and standards. Radiation therapists can find information on networking and job opportunities, continuing education credits and professional radiation therapy research.

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