In order to become a radiation therapist, you must complete a formal certification program, earn at least a two-year degree, and become licensed in the state where you plan to work.
What education do I need?
High school students interested in becoming radiation therapists should take courses in math and science as well as any technology and communications courses offered. They should also consider taking the SAT and ACT tests. Although these tests are not required for certification programs, many radiation therapists choose to pursue additional degrees to increase their knowledge or advance in their career, and these tests will be required to earn a bachelor’s degree.
At the post-secondary education level, prospective radiation therapists can pursue different educational paths. All radiation therapists must complete a 12-month certification program that has been accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JCERT). Most of these programs include certification as part of an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. It’s advisable to pursue at least an associate’s degree, because as of 2015, all candidates for certification in radiation therapy will need to earn an academic degree before becoming certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), which may be required by your state or employer.
A good place to begin is by checking JCERT’s list of accredited programs to find one in your area. If you already have at least a two-year degree, look for a hospital-based certification program that will recognize your academic credentials. If you have not yet completed a post-secondary degree,choose an accredited program that will allow you to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Completing an accredited program will make you eligible for licensure in any of the 50 states, not just the one where you are a student.
Once you’ve compiled a list of programs in your area you might like to attend, perform some research to narrow down the list to your top choices. Use objective criteria such as program cost, class size and teacher-to-student ratio to begin eliminating some of your choices. Request copies of the program course list from each school and compare them in terms of complexity, material covered and institution where clinical training will take place. Visit each school and talk to students, staff and alumni about the program. Request informational interviews to learn more about the profession with local hospitals and cancer treatment centers, and be sure to ask their opinion of the top local programs.
After you’ve applied to and been accepted by a program, you can expect to spend two to four years receiving classroom instruction, working in a laboratory and gaining supervised clinical experience. Classes might include algebra, human anatomy, physics, pathology, physiology, oncology and clinical dosimetry.
Radiation therapists can expect to continue taking classes throughout their career, to keep up with medical advances, fulfill continuing education requirements for renewing their certification or to increase the career opportunities available to them.
Do I need a license?
More than half of U.S. states require radiation therapists to be licensed. Requirements vary by state, but most employers require radiation therapists to earn certification from an ARRT-accredited program and become certified by the AART as a condition of employment.
In addition to completing an accredited program, AART certification requirements include passing the AART certification exam. The exam is given by computer and consists of 200 question drawn from these topics: radiography, nuclear medicine technology, magnetic resonance imaging, radiation therapy, sonography, mammography, computed tomography, quality management and bone densitometry. The certification must be renewed each year, and it requires that 24 continuing education credits or an additional certification in the radiology field be completed every two years.
Once you have received AART certification, you may need to pass a state board exam on topics such as human anatomy and radiation physics. Check your state’s requirements.
How can I advance in my career?
Management is one way of advancing within your career as a radiation therapist. An experienced radiation therapist can progress to managing radiation therapy programs in hospitals or cancer treatment centers. Other means of advancement include teaching, technical sales, and research.
Radiation therapists can choose areas in which to specialize such as brachytherapy, a form of radiotherapy that involves inserting the radioactive source inside the patient near the cancer site, or radiosurgery, a noninvasive surgery alternative that uses beams of ionizing radiation.
Another path to advancement is furthering your education. Radiation therapists can pursue additional degrees in their field or become trained and certified as dosimetrists. Dosimetrists need advanced math skills to calculate the right radiation dosages for patients; they also need strong technical skills to calibrate and maintain equipment