How I Became a SRT Radiation Therapist
As students, we were told that the job outlook in our region was “oversaturated” and that we may need to relocate to find work. I was born and raised in Michigan and had never entertained the idea of moving away.
I had an opportunity to move across the country, 2000 miles away from home to Southern California. I began reaching out through an online community for advice on networking. The truth is, I already knew how to network. I was scouting the replies for therapists who lived in the area I was moving to. I found a few, and one seemed like it could really work.
Starting with radiation oncology
I met with the chief therapist of a private clinic a month before I officially relocated. He offered me a part-time job - it wasn’t much, but it was a start. One foot in the door was all I needed. I moved across the country, and within 48 hours, I was at work. I assisted a radiation oncology team in treating patients suffering from prostate, brain, breast, and lung cancer. I was gaining valuable experience.
I was always looking for a way to increase my value as a radiation therapist. I reached out to my boss to see if they needed help anywhere else. As a matter of fact, there was something!
Stepping in to radiation therapy for skin cancer
They had a little machine that treated skin cancers. It was completely mobile, a truck would deliver it to the dermatology office twice a week for the patients to receive their treatments. The woman who normally operated the machine was leaving and they needed someone to take her place. The job was mine if I knew how to operate the machine… which I did not. They would not compensate me for training, but if I wanted to learn on my own time I was welcome to observe her. I saw my time as an investment. Learning how to do this would eventually make me a little extra money, little did I know what this would do for my career.
I spent weeks learning how to work this machine. The time finally came for me to get paid and operate it on my own. I worked twice a week, for 4 hours each day, treating patients as they showed up. The problem was, they didn’t show up. After the numbers fell it was no longer cost-effective for the dermatology office to offer radiation treatments.
Radiation dermatology as a full time job
I was devastated. I still was only working 16 hours a week. I needed more. I was browsing jobs online and I came across “FULL TIME RADIATION DERMATOLOGY”. Why on earth would a dermatologist need a full-time radiation therapist? There is no way they have enough patients to make a therapist ‘full time’. It is probably a mistake, but hey I have nothing to lose. I sent in my resume. I get a call, almost immediately, asking if I can come in for an interview.
I almost canceled my interview. I looked for any reason to not go. I had so many doubts about the longevity of this kind of job. I thought, like my last experience with dermatology, this would end poorly.
The chance to treat more skin cancer patients
I met with the staff and doctors. They had other applicants, but they were so amazed to finally have one with experience treating skin cancers. I mentioned my concerns and wanted to know how they planned to keep me busy enough to work full time.
They laughed. The office has too many patients. They said on average they were treating about 20 patients a week, but their therapist couldn’t be available enough to accommodate the rest of the patients. The rest? They had a waitlist and a never-ending flow of patients looking for a way to have skin cancers removed without leaving a scar.
Officially a superficial radiation therapist
The dermatologist assured me that he no longer wanted to remove skin cancers surgically. He said in his years in practice he had left people with enough scars. Now that he had a superficial machine he could change that.
It seemed too good to be true. I left the interview and told them that I needed time to consider the offer. But as I was driving home, I couldn’t find a single reason to not take the job. I called back from my car and accepted their offer. I started my career as a superficial radiation therapist the next week.
I’ve been working in the office for 2.5 years. I’ve treated over 650 skin cancers. I love my job. I’m so thankful for the experiences that got me here!
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?