Radiation Therapist Schools

  • Radiation therapist schools are institutions that provide educational programs in radiation therapy or radiation oncology.
  • Prospective radiation therapists can take radiation therapy programs at the certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s levels.
  • Some of the institutions with accredited radiation therapy programs are Virginia Western Community College, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and University of Nebraska Medical Center.
  • The median annual wage of radiation therapists in May 2019 was $85,560[1].
Radiation therapist schools are institutions that offer educational programs in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy, or radiation oncology, is a field of medicine that uses ionizing radiation to treat malignant and benign tumors. Radiation oncology programs could take one to four years to complete. The programs could be at the certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s levels. The programs for a certificate in radiation therapy are designed to help students prepare for careers in radiation therapy. These programs usually take more than a year to complete. Some certification programs require students to be a registered radiologic technologist or a registered nurse (RN).  Students taking up an associate’s degree in radiation therapy study psychosocial patient care, sectional anatomy, dosimetry, advanced treatment techniques, and treatment planning. Students under this program undergo more clinical experience compared to students under a certificate program. These programs could take about two years to complete. Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy programs take four years to complete. The first two years include general education requirements, like history, English, philosophy, and mathematics.  Students taking up Bachelor of Science in Radiation Oncology study radiation therapy, patient care, dosimetry, and professional development during their junior and senior years. Some institutions offer two-year B.S. programs in radiation therapy. However, a certification or an associate’s degree is typically required.

School Selection Criteria

Prospective radiation therapists should consider two factors when looking for a radiation therapy program. The first is to determine the level of credentials desired. It could be at the certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s level. Another factor to consider is the school’s accreditation status. Individuals have to take an accredited radiation therapy program to qualify for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) exam. Students have to take and pass the ARRT exam to secure certification to practice radiation oncology. ARRT is a credentialing organization that qualifies individuals in imaging and radiation therapy. The organization’s mission statement is to promote high standards of patient care through the recognition of individuals in the fields of radiation therapy, medical imaging, and interventional procedures.

Applying To a Radiation Therapist School

The application process varies depending on the school offering the radiation therapy program For example, Loma Linda University requires students interested in its two-year radiation therapy program to meet the following requirements:
  • ARRT registered radiographer with a minimum of two-year associate’s degree
  • A registered nurse
  • An associate’s degree in natural science
Meanwhile, students who want to study radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have to meet the following requirements:
  • An undergraduate course in statistics, mathematics, or basic research with a grade of “C” or above
  • Credentialed by the ARRT
  • Successful completion of online application
  • Submit a 500-word statement of purpose
The university will close applications for the Spring 2021 semester on Sept. 30, 2020. Interviews will begin in October and the university will start onboarding students before the new year. Classes will begin Jan. 9, 2021.

Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy Curriculum 

Program curricula for students taking Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy vary depending on the school. For example, students taking a Bachelor of Science degree in Radiation Therapy at Loma Linda University School of Allied Professions take formal classes with instruction in a clinical setting. A program director monitors students learning the radiation therapy procedures of the university’s radiation therapy department. Students also have to attend lectures aside from supporting the radiation therapy procedures of the university. Meanwhile, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s two-year program is composed of an instructional phase followed by directed clinical training at partner hospitals and laboratories. The first phase includes lectures about human anatomy, physiology, radiation therapy physics, radiation oncology, pathology, radiation biology, treatment planning, medical dosimetry, quality assurance, and patient care. The program requires students to complete 44 units of medical courses within three semesters. After that, students have to complete 36 units of medical courses in the same time frame in addition to clinical rotations.

Accredited Programs in Radiation Therapy

The following are some of the accredited radiation therapy programs in the United States.
  • Virginia Western Community College (VWCC)
Virginia Western Community College offers a two-year radiation oncology degree at the associate’s level.  The college boasts an ARRT certification pass rate of 97%. VWCC also has a post-graduate employment rate of 87%.
  • University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC)
The University of North Carolina’s post-baccalaureate radiology therapy program has a post-graduate employment rate of 100%. UNC requires students to have already earned or be in the process of earning an associate’s degree before becoming eligible for the university’s radiation oncology program. Aside from having an associate’s degree, students must also be certified in radiography before they can take UNC’s one-year program. Students are eligible to take ARRT’s national board certification exam in radiography upon program completion.
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC)
UNMC has a one-year radiation therapy program. The U.S. News and World Report branded the university as one of 2018’s top 20 primary care grad schools in the U.S. Students taking the radiation therapy program can choose to earn a B.S. degree in Radiation Science Technology or a post-baccalaureate certificate. Any of the two qualifies students for the ARRT exam.
  • Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)
The U.S. News and World Report ranked Oregon Health and Science University fifth in the list of the best Primary Care Medical Schools in the U.S. in 2018. The university’s radiation oncology program has a 97% degree completion rate and a 95% exam pass rate. The university’s program also boasts an 87% job placement rate.
  • University of Vermont (UV)
University of Vermont’s radiation therapy is well-known as one of the most cost-effective radiation oncology programs. Students have to pay less than $16,000 annually for the B.S. degree program, which has an average job placement rate of 10% over the last five years.

Are There Radiation Therapist Schools Online?

Currently, there are no accredited programs that can be 100 percent completed remotely because of the clinical nature of radiation oncology. However, some schools offer radiation technology programs that can be partially completed online. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) has a list of recommended hybrid radiation therapy programs. JRCERT accredits educational programs in radiation therapy, radiography, magnetic resonance, and medical dosimetry. JCERT publishes the program effectiveness data of accredited programs on its website. The program effectiveness data includes the program’s  job placement rate, credentialing examination pass rate, and program completion rate. The following are some of JRCERT’s recommended hybrid radiation therapy programs with positive student learning outcomes:
  • Gateway Community College (GCC)
Gateway Community College’s radiation therapy course is open for students with medical radiography certification from ARRT. Students have to pay only $10,000 annually in out-of-state tuition costs to take the course. The 13-month program can be completed partially online. Ninety percent of the program’s graduates pass the national certification exam on the first try. The program also has a 100% job placement rate.
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s radiation therapy program allows students to learn either in person or via distance learning. A remote learning setup involves online interaction between a number of students and faculty, learning at clinical sites, and a brief lecture in Houston.

What Is a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists are allied health professionals who use x-rays, gamma rays, or charged particles to treat malignant and benign tumors.  Radiation therapists use various medical equipment, like a linear accelerator, to treat cancer patients. A medical linear accelerator (LINAC) uses high energy electrons to conform to a tumor’s shape and remove cancer cells while avoiding healthy cells. Radiation therapists gather relevant patient information using medical imaging to help oncologists form a cancer treatment plan. Radiation therapists must have excellent critical thinking skills and effective communication skills to discuss treatment plans with patients and other medical professionals.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists work with radiation oncologists to treat cancer patients. The following are some of the radiation therapist’s roles and responsibilities:
  • Explain treatment plans to cancer patients
  • Protect patients and themselves from harmful exposure to radiation
  • Determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment
  • Operate radiation therapy machinery
  • Monitor cancer patients to check for unusual reactions to the treatment
  • Keep detailed records of treatment

How Does One Become a Radiation Therapist?

To become a radiation therapist, students will have to earn a certification, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. The educational programs should cover various radiation oncology techniques important in the workplace, including specific radiologic principles, skills, and general science courses. After earning a medical degree, applicants have to pass the ARRT certification exam. They also have to secure a license if required by state laws.

Is Radiation Therapy Difficult?

The difficulty level of radiation therapy programs varies depending on the institution and the kind of program taken. At VWCC, students are discouraged from working while taking the two-year radiation oncology program because of the intense curriculum. Aside from VWCC, Cambridge College of Healthcare and Technology also offers a challenging radiation therapy program. The Sandy Springs, Georgia-based college offers an associate’s degree in radiation therapy. The accelerated program can take up to two years to complete.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?

The amount of time needed to be a certified radiation therapist differs depending on the educational pathway taken.  It can take less than three years if prospective radiation therapists pursue an associate degree and certification while working in a support role. On the other hand, aspiring radiation therapists completing a bachelor’s degree may need four to five years to finish their studies, gain experience, become certified, and enter the field. 

Licensing and Certification Process for Radiation Therapists

After completing an ARRT-approved training program, prospective radiology therapists have to apply for the crediting organization’s certification exam. Applicants must apply for certification within three years of completing their program. To be qualified for the ARRT exam, a high school diploma and at least an associate degree in radiation therapy from an accredited program are required. ARRT also requires students to complete a radiation therapy educational program. The program should include clinical education and coursework about the following topics:
  • Patient care
  • Dosing
  • Radiation therapy procedures
  • Treatment planning
  • Radiation physics
  • Pathology 
The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) is another credentialing association that offers ARRT-certified continuing education credits. ARRT provides a list of approved community colleges, health institutes, and universities that offer accredited programs.  Applicants must also meet ARRT‘s ethics requirements. The requirements are detailed in the organization’s Standards of Ethics document, which can be viewed online. The certification exam has 200 questions and can take up to four hours to finish. The exam includes topics like patient care, radiation safety, and therapy procedures. After taking the radiation therapy certification exam, examinees immediately receive a preliminary score. Applicants receive their final scores four weeks after the test. Applicants who passed the test, background checks, and drug tests receive their certification. However, a certification from ARRT may not be enough to practice radiation oncology full-time. Seventy-five percent of states require radiation therapists to have a license in addition to the ARRT certificate. At least 200 hours of clinical training is required for applicants who want to take a licensure exam. The applicant’s clinical competency also has to be corroborated by a licensed and registered therapist for the applicant to be qualified.

Career Outlook for Radiation Therapists

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that around 1,600 radiation oncology jobs would be created through 2028. The increase was attributed to the increased availability of affordable screening options for younger people[2]. In 2019, radiation therapists had a reported annual median pay of $85,560[3]. The highest-paid radiation therapists can be found in California, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut, and Washington. These medical professionals earn between $101,000 and $114,000 per year[4].

Careers Available for Radiation Therapist School Graduates

Board certification can qualify students for more prestigious health professions, like a medical dosimetrist A medical dosimetrist is responsible for ensuring that a radiation treatment has the fewest side effects to the patient’s healthy organs. In California, medical dosimetrists have an average salary between $90,626 and $136,115 per year[5].

Conclusion 

Radiation therapist schools provide educational programs in radiation therapy or radiation oncology. Some schools offer educational programs that can be partially completed remotely. Aspiring radiation therapists can take radiation therapy programs at the certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s levels. Some of the institutions that offer accredited radiation therapy programs include the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Virginia Western Community College, and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Radiation Therapists. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Occupational Employment Statistics. Radiation Therapists. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291124.htm
  5. Government Compensation in California. Employee Detail, Medical Dosimetrist. Retrieved from https://www.publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/PositionDetail.aspx?employeeid=6300406

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