- 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.
School Selection CriteriaProspective 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 SchoolThe 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
- 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
Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy CurriculumProgram 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 TherapyThe following are some of the accredited radiation therapy programs in the United States.
- Virginia Western Community College (VWCC)
- University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC)
- University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC)
- Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)
- University of Vermont (UV)
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)
- The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
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 TherapistRadiation 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 TherapistsAfter 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
- Radiation therapy procedures
- Treatment planning
- Radiation physics
Career Outlook for Radiation TherapistsData 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. In 2019, radiation therapists had a reported annual median pay of $85,560. 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.
Careers Available for Radiation Therapist School GraduatesBoard 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.
ConclusionRadiation 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.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Radiation Therapists. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm
- U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Occupational Employment Statistics. Radiation Therapists. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291124.htm
- Government Compensation in California. Employee Detail, Medical Dosimetrist. Retrieved from https://www.publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/PositionDetail.aspx?employeeid=6300406