Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapy specialists are responsible for guiding radiology treatment for those affected by cancer. 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 that treat patients with cancer.

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 records of treatment.

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. There are a number of radiation therapist specializations and career types 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 sciences or the 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 in some cases, 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; completion of approximately 120 credit-hours 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 or 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 its curriculum.

Look for in 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, the applications of brachytherapy, image guidance radiation therapy, tomotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and cyber knife 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: $5,000 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: 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 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. If students are already credentialed as radiologic technologists, sonographers, nuclear medicine technologists, radiation therapists, or medical dosimetrists and have completed a properly-accredited educational program, then 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

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 to build a solid foundation for a course of study in radiation therapy.

Step 2a: Earn a Certification or Associate Degree (One to Two Years)


In the case of radiation therapy, attending a one-year program can earn a diploma of qualification. Attending a two-year program can grant students an associate degree. After this step, some students choose to get certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), while others complete their bachelor’s degree or seek work.

Step 2b: Earn a BS in Radiation Therapy (Optional, Two to Four Years)


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 differing 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 in order 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 which help fill in gaps in knowledge. As these vary by individual, the ARRT has more information about how these guidelines are established.

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 therapist 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 2019) reports that radiation therapy is set to grow by 9 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding 1,600 new jobs nationally. The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for a radiation therapist is an associate’s degree, although 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 18,600 radiation therapists employed across the country, per the BLS (2018):

  • Average annual salary: $87,670
  • 10th percentile: $56,360
  • 50th percentile (median): $82,330
  • 90th percentile: $124,320
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

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.

Related Articles