A radiation therapist stands in front of a linear accelerator machine used for radiation treatments.

What is a Radiation Therapist?

A radiation therapist is also known as a therapeutic radiologic technologist. We are responsible for delivering radiation treatments to treat diseases such as skin cancer. We work alongside doctors, setting up the treatment area, verifying the treatment parameters, and most importantly, administering the dose of radiation.

Where do radiation therapists work?

Typically radiation therapists work in the radiation wing of oncology departments in large hospitals or in privately-owned cancer clinics. Some radiation therapists, like myself, find work in dermatology offices on machines designed specifically for skin cancer treatment.

What is required to be a radiation therapist?

The schooling for radiation therapy involves both classroom and clinical training, whether it be an associate's or bachelor's degree. We are trained in the science behind the radiation as well as the best ways to care for our patients. We are taught hands-on in radiation therapy departments and have been evaluated on our abilities to perform essential tasks.

In addition to schooling, there are licensing, continuing education, and certification requirements that vary by each state.

What is the interaction like between radiation therapists and patients?

In a radiation therapy department, the radiation therapists interact with their patients every day for about 15-30 minutes, over a course of 20-45 treatments. This setting requires 2-3 radiation therapists to administer each treatment daily. The therapists may rotate job duties, meaning the patient may see many new faces during their treatments. Unfamiliarity may cause some issues, but most of the time relationships are built among the patient and their therapists. The relationships are usually very supportive and personal, as these patients are often going through a very difficult time.

In a dermatology office, the patient sees their single radiation therapist 1-3 times per week for 10-16 treatments, but these appointments are much shorter. The treatment is only 30 seconds long. The patients often feel that their treatment is a simple chore to check off the list, rather than as a life-saving treatment. This creates a very light atmosphere. Even though their visit may be over in just a few minutes, they often linger to socialize. As they only interact with one radiation therapist, a friendly and familiar relationship develops quickly.

Is a radiation therapist an 'x-ray tech'?

A radiation therapist and an x-ray tech are both radiologic technologists. The difference between the two is that a radiation therapist is a “therapeutic” radiologic technologist, while someone that takes x-rays is a “diagnostic” radiologic technologist. Therapeutic technologists administer radiation as a form of treatment, in most cases to kill cancerous cells. As for the diagnostic technologists, they use radiation to create images such as an x-ray of a bone break or a CT of a mass inside the body! We are very different and our jobs are not interchangeable.

Technologist not technician

I was taught this distinction in a very simple way. A technician is someone who has a skill that they are able to perform. A technologist is someone who has studied the science behind that skill in addition to the clinical application. A technician will always work below a technologist.

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