Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapy specialists are responsible for guiding radiology treatment for cancer patients. Their main tasks include operating radiation machines, such as linear accelerators, and guiding concentrated radiation therapy to the specific physical regions of a patient’s tumor. Radiation treatment is used on patients with cancer because it has the potential to shrink or remove cancerous tumors. These radiation therapy team-oriented professionals are part of the oncology teams treating cancer patients. 

Apart from these essential duties, radiation therapy specialists work collaboratively with physicians and other healthcare professionals to explain treatment plans to patients and answer questions about radiological treatments.

Additionally, they protect patients and themselves from dangerous exposure to radiation, determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment, and calibrate and operate radiation machines. On top of this, it is up to the radiation technician to monitor the patient, check for unusual reactions to the radiation therapy, and keep detailed treatment records.

Critical radiation therapy skills include the ability to explain treatment plans to patients and answer questions, x-ray patients to determine the precise location of treatment, follow safety procedures to protect patients from overexposure, operate radiation equipment, and monitor to make sure patients are handling the treatment well. Radiation therapists also must maintain their patients’ records.

There has been an ever-growing need for the specialized, certified skill set of radiation therapists, who work closely with oncologists to develop radiation treatment programs. Certified radiation therapists are a class of healthcare professionals that have come into high demand as the national cancer rate grows.

Radiation Therapist Specializations & Degree Types

Radiation therapy is used together with many other approaches to oncological treatments and protocols to address the highly-specialized needs of a wide variety of cancer patients. In general, radiation therapists must hold at least an associate’s degree, although employers highly recommend and prefer a bachelor’s degree. Several radiation therapist specializations and career types are available for prospective behavioral professionals. They include:

  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Interventional radiology/diagnostic radiology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Subspecialty descriptions
  • Medical physics

Admissions Requirements for Radiation Therapy Programs

Aspiring radiation therapists generally have a background in the health or natural sciences. The entry-level educational requirement is an associate degree. Although admissions requirements vary, prospective students generally need to show a competitive high school GPA (especially in science and math courses), submit a personal statement, and sometimes undergo an interview. Test scores such as the SAT or ACT are typically only required in bachelor’s degree programs.

University bachelor’s programs in radiation therapy typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0, completing approximately 120 credits of undergraduate work in radiation therapy, oncology, and even proton particle therapy, and required courses in sociology, law, logic, and health. 

University master’s degree programs in radiation therapy will see students diving deeper into the study of behavior, psychology, cancer genomics, and genetics to gain a better understanding of the field. In fact, virtually any discipline in the sciences can give students the foundation necessary to excel in this field. Many programs require a background in health science, a related field, or an AAS degree, if applicable.

Radiation Therapy Program Accreditation

Students enrolling in radiation therapy programs should verify a school’s accreditation status. Accreditation ensures that programs have met a set of peer-reviewed standards in their curriculum. 

Look for programs in radiation therapy accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). JRCERT currently offers programmatic accreditation in radiation therapy at the certificate, associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degree levels in both campus-based and distance learning formats. 

Reputable regional accreditation entities (e.g., Higher Learning Commission) can be verified through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which approves reputable accreditation bodies across the United States.

On-Campus Radiation Therapy Degree Programs

Galveston College

This associate of applied science (AAS) degree program in radiation therapy from Galveston College can provide prospective radiation therapy professionals the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the field. 

Coursework for this two-year program includes intensity modulated radiation therapy treatment, brachytherapy applications, image guidance radiation therapy, tomotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and cyberknife treatment procedures. Galveston College, a leading institution in the field, boasts a faculty of expert radiation therapy professionals. 

Only those students who are rated in the top 50 percent of the applicant pool will be extended an interview by the admissions committee, so the program can be considered somewhat competitive. More information can be found at the link provided.

  • Location: Galveston, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $7,000 to $8,000 for the entire program, books & fees included

Loma Linda University

This bachelor of science (BS) program in radiation therapy from Loma Linda University can provide prospective oncology professionals the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the field. The program is notable for its didactic approach to radiation therapy curriculum, a comprehensive and varied clinical education, and the facilities to learn about proton particle therapy. Loma Linda University is also a leading institution in the field with an esteemed faculty of radiation therapy and oncology professionals.

  • Location: Loma Linda, California
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $25,650 to $28,350 per year for tuition

Forsyth Technical Community College

Students in the associate of science radiation therapy program at Forsyth Technical Community College are trained to be professional radiologists, using their knowledge of science and technology alongside clinical expertise. This program uses an integrated curriculum that provides practical application skills for treating patients with cancer at any stage, from diagnosis until recovery or beyond. The primary skill students will gain is the application of prescribed doses of ionizing radiation to treat disease.

There is both a traditional track for students who have no previous experience in this field and advanced placement track for students who have already completed a radiography program. 

  • Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $268 per credit

Indiana University Northwest

Indiana University Northwest’s bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy program is designed to prepare students for professional careers as radiation therapists in the medical field. By providing pertinent learning experiences, faculty strive towards developing lifelong learners. 

The curriculum of the radiation therapy program is designed to train students to perform procedures along with courses that cover the didactic side, such as radiologic principles and technical training. Clinical applications help students put the theory to practice with hands-on lab time. 

  • Location: Gary, Indiana
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $644.86 per credit 

Mayo Clinic – College of Medicine and Science

The one-year certificate in radiation therapy curriculum at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science is centered around hands-on learning and clinical experiences that will allow students to put their education into practice immediately. Through the course of this program, students will gain experience with a variety of treatments, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), volume-modulated arc therapy (VMAT), stereotactic body radiosurgery (SBRT), and conventional non-IMRT treatments using cone beam CT image guidance.

Only eight to ten students are admitted annually, so candidates should submit a competitive application. For the past 35 years, 100 percent of graduates of this program have passed their board exam on the first try. 

  • Location: Rochester, Minnesota
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: Contact the school for a customized tuition assessment

Online or Hybrid Radiation Therapy Degree Programs

Amarillo College

This online AAS degree program teaches radiation therapy techniques to fight and eradicate cancers. Amarillo focuses on a hands-on approach that features an interdisciplinary curriculum taught by a combination of doctors and other members of health science teams. 

Coursework includes general psychology, interpersonal communication, human anatomy, human physiology, ethics and law in radiation therapy, sectional anatomy, oncology, and dosimetry.

  • Location: Amarillo, Texas
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation:  Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: Varies based on the number of credits

Clarion University

This online bachelor of science (BS) program in medical imaging sciences and radiologic technology from Clarion University provides prospective radiation therapists the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the field. The program is notable for the option to complete their studies online if they begin in the traditional, on-campus format. 

Suppose students are already credentialed as radiologic technologists, sonographers, nuclear medicine technologists, radiation therapists, or medical dosimetrists and have completed a properly-accredited educational program. In that case, this degree completion program is the right program for them.

  • Location: St. Clarion, Pennsylvania
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $440.20 per credit on-campus, $409.20 per credit online

Gateway Community College

In as little as 20 months, students can complete their hybrid associate of science degree in radiation therapy at Gateway Community College. Graduates of this program are ready for entry-level work in cancer centers and hospitals. While students will have to travel to campus for in-person classes, many lecture-based courses are available through distance learning. 

Classes in this program are offered in a set sequence, so students should ensure they complete their courses as required to have the skills necessary for the next classes. To be considered for this program, applicants must have completed coursework in biology, anatomy, and physiology. 

  • Location: New Haven, Connecticut
  • Duration: 20 months
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $800 per credit

Georgia Southern University

Most of the didactic coursework for the bachelor of science in radiologic sciences at Georgia Southern University can be completed online. Students are only required to travel to campus occasionally for labs and clinical experiences their final three semesters. Clinicals rotations happen at four to five different centers across the state, affording students diverse hands-on experience with the latest clinical techniques in administering treatments to cancer patients. 

As this is a more advanced degree than an associate’s, it is not uncommon for graduates of this program to step into leadership roles such as chief therapist or department manager. 

  • Location: Savannah, Georgia
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $742.73 per credit

Mitchell Technical College

With a combination of clinical experience, lab classes, and didactic courses, Mitchell Technical College offers a comprehensive hybrid associate of applied science in radiation therapy program. The first semester of this program is completed on-campus, while the second two semesters take place at the clinical site. While completing clinical requirements, students will take online classes to finish their technical training. 

In addition to the mandatory classes for this program, students must take general education classes to fulfill the requirements for their associate’s degree. 

  • Location: Mitchell, South Dakota
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • Tuition: $11,585 for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiation Therapist?

Expect a minimum of twelve months in a radiation therapy training program, and up to a maximum of two years if pursuing the credential while in school or on the job. 

Though not essential to the career, a BS will take four years to complete and offer the most promising job outlook.

How To Become a Radiation Therapist – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a radiation therapist, as mentioned above, should take students a minimum of twelve months and up to as many as two years if prospective radiation therapy professionals take longer to gain clinical and industry experience in real-life settings.

Step 1: Graduate High School (Four Years)

As a high school student, a focus on classes in the subjects of anatomy, physiology, computer applications, food and nutrition, foreign language, introduction to health care, and nursing can help build a solid foundation for a study in radiation therapy. 

Step 2: Earn a Degree in Radiation Therapy (Two to Four Years)

Aspiring fractionation therapists must earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in this field.  Either degree is sufficient for entry-level work in this field, although many employers prefer a bachelor’s degree. 

Aside from the more general education requirements, gaining a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy can allow a professional to take on more advanced leadership positions in their place of work and command higher salaries. A bachelor’s degree completion program (i.e., post-associate degree) will take two years, while a program fresh out of high school generally takes four years of full-time study. 

Please note that many bachelor’s degree programs in radiation therapy (especially online options) require at least an associate degree to qualify. There may be different course paths for those who choose to pursue certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) after their associate degree program.

Step 3: Earn Professional Certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (Timeline Varies)

Following the completion of an academic program, aspiring radiation therapists seek certification from the ARRT. To qualify, they must have at least an associate degree from an ARRT-approved program, demonstrate strong ethics, and pass the certification exam.

Step 4: Earn State License as a Radiation Therapist (Timeline Varies)

The ARRT notes that 75 percent of U.S. states have unique local credentialing requirements for radiation therapists. For example, California has its own RT license (developed with the ARRT), which candidates must pass to practice radiation therapy in the state.

Contact the ARRT for more information on local credentialing.

Step 5: Maintain Active ARRT Certification and State License, If Necessary (Every Year)

It’s important to stay on top of industry updates and keep licensing and certifications current. The ARRT radiation therapist certification is valid for one year and can be renewed.

Every two years, students must complete 24 units for qualifying continuing education (e.g., online courses, participation in meetings or conferences, etc).

Step 6: Fulfill ARRT Continuing Qualifications Requirements (Every Ten Years) 

Finally, all certified RTs must fulfill CQR requirements to help fill in knowledge gaps. As these vary by individual, the ARRT has more information about establishing these guidelines.

What Do Radiation Therapists Do?

Radiation therapy specialists work collaboratively with physicians and other healthcare professionals to explain treatment plans to patients and answer questions about radiological treatments. 

Additionally, radiation therapists are expected to determine the exact location of the area requiring treatment, calibrate and operate radiation machines, and protect patients and themselves from improper exposure to radiation. On top of this, it is up to the radiation technician to monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions and keep detailed records of treatment.

Radiation Therapist Certification & Licensure

Radiation therapists can earn licensure and certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). This professional body oversees much of the certification of radiation therapists that happens in the United States.

As mentioned above, minimum requirements for eligibility include an associate degree, an ethics requirement, completion of an ARRT-approved educational program in the area of certification sought, and passing the corresponding exam. Additionally, licensing is required in over 75 percent of U.S. states, often in addition to ARRT certification. 

Other certifications available include:

  • Bone Densitometry (BD)
  • Breast Sonography (BS)
  • Cardiac Interventional Radiography (CI) 
  • Cardiovascular Interventional Radiography (CV)  
  • Computed Tomography (CT) 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR) 
  • Mammography (M) 
  • Nuclear Medicine Technology (N) 
  • Quality Management (QM)
  • Radiation Therapy (T) 
  • Radiography (R) 
  • Registered Radiologist Assistant (RRA) 
  • Sonography (S) 
  • Vascular Interventional Radiography (VI) 
  • Vascular Sonography (VS)

How Much Do Radiation Therapists Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) reports that radiation therapy is set to grow by 6 percent between 2021 and 2031, adding 1,000 new jobs nationally. The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for a radiation therapist is an associate degree. However, earning a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy can increase one’s salary and leadership opportunities. 

Here is detailed information about the salary average and percentiles for the 16,050 radiation therapists employed across the country, per the BLS (May 2021):

  • Average annual salary: $94,000
  • 10th percentile: $61,030
  • 25th percentile: $75,490
  • 50th percentile (median): $82,790
  • 75th percentile: $102,060
  • 90th percentile: $128,550

Radiation Therapist Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a radiation therapist: 

Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

A physical therapy assistant (PTA) works under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist (PT). PTAs help patients with rehabilitative exercises and other activities to improve their mobility and physical function. PTAs also provide support and assistance to PTs in the performance of their duties

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

Become a Dosimetrist 

A dosimetrist works in the field of radiation oncology and is responsible for designing and calculating the ideal radiotherapy treatment plan for each individual patient, taking into account factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and the desired outcome of treatment. In addition, dosimetrists work closely with radiation therapists to ensure that the treatment plan is followed correctly and that patients receive the correct radiation dose. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or Associate’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Medical Dosimetry Certification Board (MDCB)

Become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are trained to clean teeth and provide other preventive dental care. They usually work in dentist offices, though some may also work in schools or other healthcare settings. In addition to cleaning teeth, dental hygienists may also take x-rays, apply sealants, and teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene. With more training, they can also provide specialized treatments such as periodontal therapy or fluoride treatments. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board Dental Hygiene Examination
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker


Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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