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By: - at May 28, 2013

Radiation Therapy Career Analysis


Kind Doctor reassuring radiation patient

Can you be worthy of trust as you help others navigate their battle with cancer? Can you retain faith in those fragile moments when patients are faithless? Will you be as strong as you are asking them to be? If you can answer yes to these questions, radiation therapy could be a humbling but awe-inspiring career for you.

What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation machine and tableRadiation therapy is the treatment of benign and malignant disease with radiation, and can be used as a stand-alone treatment, or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy. During treatment, the DNA of cancerous cells are changed with radiation, killing mutations or, at the very least, slowing their multiplication. While it is effective in attacking cancer, it can also cause serious damage to normally healthy tissue. Careful planning can limit and avoid damage to healthy cells.

Three types of radiation therapy are external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy and systemic radiation therapy. In external beam radiation therapy, machines deliver radiation from outside of the body. In brachytherapy, which is also known as internal radiation therapy, radioactive material is placed near cancer cells within the body. Systemic radiation therapy uses radioactive substances in the blood stream, which travel through the body and kills cancer cells.

Beyond general radiation therapy, which addresses the health needs of any patient, some therapists may choose to specialize in pediatric radiation therapy. Before considering this option, it is important to recognize children are often diagnosed with more rare cancers, and these cancers are often more difficult to treat. It should be acknowledged that successful eradication of cancer in children is less common than in adults. This can be attributed to less money invested into research in children's cancers and lack of response to current treatments.

Cancer Occurrence Predictions
Cancer CellAccording to CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, occurrences of cancer are predicted to include 1.6 million new cases in 2013. This does not include carcinoma in situ, meaning the only cells involved are at the point of origin, except urinary bladder malignancies. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are also excluded. From those new occurrences, more than 580,000 are expected to result in death.

While the treatment of cancers has led to a decrease in resulting deaths, cancer is on the rise and can be attributed to environmental factors, hereditary factors and the simple process of aging. Additionally, pediatric cancers have increased in small yearly increments since 1975. Today, cancer is the second most leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14. As Americaís population grows older, and childhood cancers increase, the impending diagnoses of cancers will multiply, and radiation therapists will remain valued and necessary contributors in the fight against cancer.

Skills Required in Becoming a Radiation Therapist
Radiation treatmentPhysically, radiation therapists spend most days on their feet. This includes walking, bending and lifting. They must be capable of lifting, moving and adjusting heavy medical equipment as well as possessing the agility and strength to aid patients onto the treatment table.

Emotionally and mentally, radiation therapists are treating patients who often are facing their own mortality. Radiation therapists must be empathetic to their patients, and their patientís family as they face life and death questions, fears and even anger. A radiation therapist will be responsible for monitoring the physical and emotional well being of each patient, and capable of making referrals and recommendations for counseling and other therapies that can provide encouragement through treatment. Because this type of work can be taxing on the radiation therapistís own emotional health, it is imperative the therapist be able to recognize his or her own limitations and take necessary steps to maintain a healthy perspective.

Finally, technical skills required include math and science proficiency, strong verbal and written skills, active listening, critical thinking, the ability to operate and control equipment and medical language understanding. A radiation therapist must be detail oriented and have strong interpersonal communication skills.

Pros and Cons
Doctor talking to radiation patientWorking in radiation therapy can be very fulfilling. Therapists work directly with patients while participating in life-saving therapies and are a vital component to the oncology team. A therapist will be working in a fast-paced environment that allows access to cutting-edge technology. Unlike many other positions in the medical field, radiation therapists primarily work set hours throughout the week.

The greatest challenges facing a radiation therapist are keeping up with evolving technology and therapies and the emotional impact and stress that comes with treating patients who hang in the balance of life and death. Additionally, this field is highly competitive because it is a small specialty in relation to other occupations within the medical field.

Radiation Therapist Job Outlook
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for radiation therapists will increase by 20% from 2010-2020, more than most other occupations.

The median annual wage of radiation therapists, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics, is $74,980. This means half of all radiation therapists earned less, while half earned more. The bottom 10 percent earned $50,950 or less, and the top 10 percent earned $110,550 or more.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist
Candidates may qualify with a 12-month certificate program, but obtaining an associateís or bachelorís degree in radiation therapy will increase chances of employment exponentially.

Before choosing a program, refer to the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, which lists accredited programs that will assure a strong foundation. In addition, statistics are provided for each school showing program completion rates, credential examination pass rates and employment rates. These items will prove to be valuable tools while selecting a school.

Once the educational framework is completed, most states require licensure. Radiation therapists can become certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Certification can only be achieved upon the completion of an accredited radiation therapy program, adherence to ARRT ethical standards and passing of the ARRT certification exam. Certification must be renewed every two years.

Additional Occupational Opportunities
Once a successful career has been established in radiation therapy, other opportunities become available such as research, management and teaching. In some cases, radiation therapists can progress into a medical dosimetry position through work related training.

A medical dosimetrist designs and tests potential treatment plans through computer imaging, predicting obstacles and fine-tuning measurements so that radiation treatment can be delivered to the patient in the safest way possible. They are the middle-men, taking the prescription from the oncologist and creating a course of treatment that is physically executed by the radiation therapist. Radiation therapists are good candidates for medical dosimetry because they have hands on experience and fully understand the practical limitations of body angles.

In addition to on-the-job training, a radiation therapist interested in medical dosimetry can obtain their masterís degree in medical dosimetry with an additional two years of education.

Radiation therapy is a challenging career, but with the right tools and an innate want to help others, can be fulfilling work for many years to come. Personal and professional gratification is limitless in this field where science, medicine, compassion and triumph meet.





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