Job Description

Who Becomes a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists are involved in all aspects of care of the cancer patient. A high level of skill is required to serve the emotional as well as the physical needs of the patient since many are seriously ill and under stress. In addition to maintaining pleasant, positive relationships with their patients, radiation therapists must be able to interact effectively with physicians and with the therapy team.

Students accepted into the Radiation Therapy Program come from many different backgrounds and are motivated by many different factors. A few of the personality traits that lead to success in the program are:

  • The desire to combine a traditional academic education with technical skills that are in high demand.
  • Commitment and dedication to a rigorous one year training program.
  • Inherent personality attributes of compassion and empathy that may be cultivated and displayed when interacting with patients, their family and their friends.

What the Radiation Therapist Does:

  • Administer radiation therapy as prescribed by the physician.
  • Display professional conduct essential to the well being of the radiation oncology patient.
  • Demonstrate effective written communication skills; Maintain accurate and detailed treatment chart documentation.
  • Demonstrate effective verbal communication skills in the clinical setting.
  • Observe the clinical progress of the radiation oncology patient, use clinical decision making skills to recognize and report any signs of complications.
  • Utilize treatment accessories to accurately reproduce the radiation treatment.
  • Adhere to radiation safety procedure protocol.
  • Safely and effectively operate a variety of computerized simulation and treatment machines.
  • Perform machine safety checks, know safe limits of equipment operations, and report abnormalities or inconsistencies to the proper authority.
  • Construct immobilization devices and employ custom blocking techniques that are conducive to conformal radiation therapy.
  • Utilize sophisticated imaging equipment and treatment planning systems for precise tumor localization.
  • Work closely with the radiation Oncologist and the therapy team in the preparation of a treatment plan that is customized to the patient’s needs.
  • Adhere to the Radiation Therapist Code of Ethics.

Where the Radiation Therapist works:

  • Simulation – The initial step in developing an effective treatment plan takes place on the simulator. The simulator is used to define and map out the area to be treated.  During simulation the radiation therapist works closely with the physician to acquire images and use computed tomography (CT) simulation software to verify the exact location of the disease and define the treatment parameters. Immobilization devices are constructed and used to assure accuracy and reproducibility during treatment. Immobilization devices are constructed and used to assure accuracy and reproducibility during treatment. Advancements in medical imaging have revolutionized how we simulate and plan the course of radiation therapy treatment for the patient.
  • Treatment Planning and Dosimetry – The information that is acquired in the simulation is transferred to treatment planning where the patient is not present. Although the radiation therapist may be involved in some phases of treatment planning, the majority of the work is done by a medical dosimetrist. The dosimetrist specializes in performing complex mathematical calculations and multiple correlations to find the best combination of beam angles, field size, beam energy and distance. Computers are used to design a specialized treatment plan for each individual.
  • Treatment Delivery – When the treatment plan is complete, the patient is scheduled to start their customized course of treatment. Radiation treatments are usually scheduled five days a week, Monday to Friday, for two to eight weeks. Although the treatment machine may be delivering radiation for only a few minutes, each treatment may take from ten to twenty minutes from the time that the patient walks into the treatment room until they leave.

Radiation Therapy Code of Ethics

The Radiation Therapist Code of Ethics as published by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists states:

  • The radiation therapist advances the principal objective of the profession to provide services to humanity with full respect for the dignity of mankind.
  • The radiation therapist delivers patient care and service unrestricted by concerns of personal attributes or the nature of the disease or illness, and without discrimination on the basis of sex, race, creed, religion or socioeconomic status.
  • The radiation therapist assesses situations; exercises care, discretion and judgment; assumes responsibility for professional decisions and acts in the best interest of the patient.
  • The radiation therapist adheres to the tenets and domains of the scope of practice for radiation therapists.
  • The radiation therapist actively engages in lifelong learning to maintain, improve and enhance professional competence and knowledge.

Radiation Therapists Job Prospects

Based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 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 growing elderly population is expected to cause an increase in the number of people needing treatment. In addition, as radiation technology becomes safer and more effective, it will be prescribed more often. These factors combined with the retirement of current therapists will result in an increase in demand for radiation therapists. Rapid growth is expected in all practice settings with most radiation therapists working in cancer treatment clinics and hospitals. Some of these are research hospitals dedicated specifically to the care and treatment of the cancer patient. With a strong commitment from the medical community for early detection and early cure, and with evolutionary advancements in technology, future prospects for this career choice are above average.

Related Career Titles:

  • Simulation Therapist
  • Chief Therapist / Manager
  • Medical Dosimetrist
  • Medical Physicist
  • Educator / Instructor
  • Oncology Administrator
  • Application and Sales Specialist

Top Areas of Employment:

  • Hospitals
  • Cancer Treatment Centers
  • State and National Accreditation Agencies
  • Research Institutions
  • Educational Institutions
  • Equipment Vendors

Necessary Attributes:

  • Technical aptitude
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Standing and walking for long periods of time
  • Work as a team member
  • Manual dexterity
  • Patient care and education
  • Accuracy in record keeping
  • Ergonomics