How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists are responsible for a number of important duties. These medical professionals assist in treating cancer and other diseases by administering radiation treatment. In addition, they explain radiation therapy to patients, operate x-ray machines and other related medical equipment, ensure their equipment is working up to certain standards, monitor the patient throughout the course of the treatment, and record the results of the treatment once it is finished. Because radiation therapists are most often working as part of an oncology team, they may interact and report to radiation oncologists, oncology nurses, radiation physicists, and anyone else participating in the process of administering and monitoring radiation treatment.

Ultimately, radiation therapists hold meaningful positions that help improve the quality of life for their patients. And if you are interested in pursuing this fulfilling career, reading through the following information will help ensure you are prepared for every step of the process.

Skills and Traits of the Successful Radiation Therapist

There is no one specific personality most suited to becoming a successful radiation therapist. However, there are certain personality traits and skills that may be help an aspiring radiation therapist fulfill their goals. O*NET OnLine lists the following attributes and skills as being potentially useful for someone interested in becoming a radiation therapist:

  • Critical Thinking: Perhaps most importantly, radiation therapists must be able to assess issues they face and subsequently craft logical approaches and solutions given the resources at hand.
  • Customer and Personal Service Skills: Because radiation therapists will be working directly with patients undergoing treatments, they should be adept at monitoring patient comfort and satisfaction at all times.
  • Science, Math, and Medical Knowledge: Radiation therapists must have a solid background in physics, mathematical concepts, and medicine and dentistry, including the types of illnesses treated by radiation therapy.
  • Operation Monitoring: These therapists must also be able to actively monitor radiation treatments to ensure safety and success.
  • English Language Abilities: Finally, radiation therapists must have developed English-language skills in order to communicate effectively, both with patients and other medical professionals.

Role Requirements and Responsibilities

Those pursuing a career in radiation therapy should be aware of the licensing procedure and key role requirements. Specifically, in order to work as a radiation therapist in the United States, an individual must first have completed education in the field of radiation therapy or radiography at an accredited institution, and must complete the Radiation Therapy Didactic and Clinical Competency Requirements set forth by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Many four-year universities and colleges offer degrees that fulfill these requirements in the course of study. For that reason, amongst others, many choose to pursue inclusive bachelor’s degrees. However, a radiation therapist does not necessarily have to possess a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy or radiography; instead, those pursuing a career in radiation therapy may obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited institution, which may, in fact, be a community or other technical college.

Once an individual has obtained either an undergraduate degree in radiation therapy, he or she must then become certified with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), the national body tasked with licensing radiation therapists. In order to do so, the aspiring radiation therapist must apply for and take an examination that will test his or her competency regarding materials related to radiography. The cost of the exam is $200 for those who are taking it for the first time; subsequent examinations cost $175.

Before simply signing up for the examination, however, the AART suggests that those who are interested in becoming a radiation therapist familiarize themselves with AART’s “Equation for Excellence,” a three-factor test that individuals can use to determine their potential eligibility. The three portions of this equation are:

  • Education
  • Ethics
  • Examination

The AART goes on to elaborate on each piece of this three-part equation. In regards to education, as mentioned before, an aspiring radiation therapist must obtain a degree from an accredited institution and must complete certain requirements involving clinical competency. Furthermore, if a current radiation therapist wants to obtain a specialty certification in a certain field, such as mammography, bone densitometry, sonography, or one of the many other sub-sects of radiation therapy, he or she must complete an additional set of clinical experience requirements, as well.

In regards to the examination, as previously mentioned, aspiring therapists must submit an application to take the examination along with an application fee; in order to receive certification, the individual must pass the test.

Finally, in order to obtain certification, AART requires that all radiation therapists uphold a standard of ethics as provided on their website. In general, those hoping to become radiation therapists must commit to acting in a professional manner and working towards the betterment of the health of their patients. In addition, radiation therapists must also not be convicted of any crime or commit any other ethical violations while working in the field.
While an individual who meets these standards is not guaranteed a position as a radiation therapist, fulfilling these requirements is necessary in order to obtain certification.

Different Paths: Steps to Becoming a Radiation Therapist

In general, the path to becoming a radiation therapist will look fairly similar overall, with minor deviations at specific points in time, depending on the individual. Consider going through the following steps if you are hoping to pursue a career in this field:

  • Step One: To begin, students should complete high school or obtain a GED. This is a requirement for virtually all two- or four-year colleges or universities. Furthermore, high school students interested in radiation therapy should take courses in physics, chemistry, and other science and mathematics courses, not only to learn the material but also to become comfortable managing a significant course load.
  • Step Two: After high school, graduates should enroll in an undergraduate degree program in radiation therapy or a highly related topic. The AART provides a list of AART-recognized educational programs from which a student can obtain a relevant and recognized degree necessary for certification in the future.
  • Step Three: During the course of the degree program, students will be required to complete certain clinical requirements in order to obtain a diploma. In addition to this, however, students should also make sure to secure employment related to radiation therapy, which will provide him or her with a greater knowledge base and a set of skills that can certainly be useful in the future.
  • Step Four: Upon graduation, an individual is then able to register with AART to complete an examination, the passing of which is a prerequisite to become a certified radiation therapist.
  • Step Five: Finally, once an individual becomes certified, he or she may find legitimate employment as a radiation therapist. Or, depending on the individual’s desires, he or she may go on to obtain further specialization in a sub-field of radiation therapy.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?

The following provides a general overview of how much time it takes to become a radiation therapist:

  • High School: Four years, although some ambitious students may complete it in three. It may also take less time to complete a GED, although this depends on the student.
  • Undergraduate degree: The typical bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, while an associate degree takes two. However, this time may vary depending on the course load and schedule.
  • Certification exam: The exam only requires a single day; however, students must submit an application and fee, and prepare accordingly, a process that could take months.
  • Total time: Not including the amount of time it takes to earn a high school degree, aspiring radiation therapists could be ready to work in the field in less than three years (which includes time to pursue an associate degree and a certification), which is why many see this as a compelling option.
Barry Franklin
Barry Franklin Editor

Barry is the Editor-in-Chief of MedicalTechnologySchools.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Previously, Barry served as a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. In addition to running editorial operations at Sechel, Barry also serves on the Board of Trustees at a local K-8 school, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, where he also met his wife.