California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Radiation Therapists in California

May also be called: Radiation Therapy Technologists

Specialties within this occupation include: Dosimetrists

What Would I Do?

Radiation Therapists provide radiation therapy to cancer patients as prescribed by a radiation oncologist according to established practices and standards. They may review the prescription and diagnosis, and act as liaison with physician and supportive care personnel. Radiation Therapists may also repair or create equipment such as immobilization, treatment, and protection devices and assist in tumor localization and dosimetry procedures, which is the process used to calculate radiation dosages.

Radiation Therapists use a machine called a linear accelerator to administer radiation treatment to patients. Linear accelerators project high-energy X rays at targeted cancer cells. As the X rays collide with human tissue, they produce highly energized ions that can shrink and eliminate cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy is sometimes used as the sole treatment for cancer, but can be used in combination with chemotherapy or surgery.

The first step in the radiation therapy process is simulation. During simulation, the Radiation Therapist uses an X-ray imaging machine or computer tomography (CT) scan to pinpoint the location of the tumor. The Therapist then positions the patient and adjusts the linear accelerator so that, when treatment begins, radiation exposure is concentrated on the tumor cells. The Radiation Therapist then develops a treatment plan in conjunction with a radiation oncologist (a physician who specializes in therapeutic radiology) and a dosimetrist (a professional who calculates the dose of radiation that will be used for treatment). The Therapist later explains the treatment plan to the patient and answers any questions that the patient may have.

The next step in the process is treatment. To begin, the Radiation Therapist positions the patient and adjusts the linear accelerator according to the guidelines established in simulation. Then, from a separate room that is protected from the X-ray radiation, the Therapist operates the linear accelerator and monitors the patient’s condition through a TV monitor and an intercom system. Treatment can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and is usually administered once a day, 5 days a week, for 2 to 9 weeks.

During the treatment phase, the Radiation Therapist monitors the patient’s physical condition to determine if any adverse side effects are taking place. The Therapist must also be aware of the patient’s emotional well-being. Because many patients are under stress and are emotionally fragile, it is important for the Therapist to maintain a positive attitude and provide emotional support.

Radiation Therapists keep detailed records of their patients’ treatments. These records include information such as the dose of radiation used for each treatment, the total amount of radiation used to date, the area treated, and the patient’s reactions. These records are reviewed by radiation oncologists and dosimetrists to ensure that the treatment plan is working, to monitor the amount of radiation exposure that the patient has received, and to keep side effects to a minimum.

Radiation Therapists may also assist medical radiation physicists, professionals who monitor and adjust the linear accelerator. However, because Radiation Therapists often work alone during the treatment phase, they need to be able to check the linear accelerator for problems and make any needed adjustments. Therapists might also assist dosimetrists with routine aspects of dosimetry.

Some tools the Radiation Therapist uses include medical software, graphics or photo imaging software, radiation detectors, ultrasound imaging equipment, radiation shielding lead aprons, electrometers, and distance meters.

Dosimetrists are therapists who have obtained additional training and certification to use complex mathematical formulas to calculate proper radiation doses.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Position patients for treatment with accuracy according to prescription.Inductive Reasoning
Administer prescribed doses of radiation to specific body parts, using radiation therapy equipment according to established practices and standards.Reading Comprehension
Check radiation therapy equipment to ensure proper operation.Operation Monitoring
Review prescription, diagnosis, patient chart, and identification.Written Comprehension
Follow principles of radiation protection for patient, self, and others.Deductive Reasoning
Maintain records, reports and files as required, including such information as radiation dosages, equipment settings and patients' reactions.Writing
Conduct most treatment sessions independently, in accordance with the long-term treatment plan and under the general direction of the patient's physician.Critical Thinking
Enter data into computer and set controls to operate and adjust equipment and regulate dosage.Monitoring
Observe and reassure patients during treatment and report unusual reactions to physician or turn equipment off if unexpected adverse reactions occur.Social Perceptiveness
Calculate actual treatment dosages delivered during each session.Complex Problem Solving
Check for side effects such as skin irritation, nausea and hair loss to assess patients' reaction to treatment.Problem Sensitivity
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Radiation Therapists work in hospitals or cancer treatment centers. These facilities are clean, well lighted, and well ventilated. Therapists do a considerable amount of lifting and must be able to help disabled patients get on and off treatment tables. They spend most of their time on their feet.

Radiation Therapists generally work at least 40 hours a week. Those in other health care occupations normally work during the day. However, because radiation therapy emergencies do occur, some Therapists are required to be on call and may have to work outside their normal hours.

Working with cancer patients can be stressful, but many Radiation Therapists also find it rewarding. Because they work around radioactive materials, Radiation Therapists take great care to ensure that they are not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Following standard safety procedures can prevent overexposure.

Radiation Therapists working in a hospital may belong to the union representing the hospital's employees.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Radiation Therapist may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve teaching, offering advice, helping, and being of service to people. Those who enjoy communicating with people may enjoy working as a Radiation Therapist because their work involves a great deal of patient interaction. Individuals interested in becoming Radiation Therapists should be psychologically capable of working with cancer patients. They should be caring and empathetic because they work with patients who are ill and under stress.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Radiation Therapists in California is $110,296 annually, or $53.03 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$89,823$110,296$129,814
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Some employers offer performance bonuses and tuition reimbursement for continuing education.

What is the Job Outlook?

As the older population grows, the number of people needing treatment is expected to increase, which will stimulate demand for Radiation Therapists. In addition, as radiation technology advances and is able to treat more types of cancer, radiation therapy will be prescribed more often.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Radiation Therapists is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Radiation Therapists are expected to increase by 18.2 percent, or 200 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Radiation Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
1,1001,30020018.2200
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 20 new job openings per year is expected for Radiation Therapists, plus an additional 20 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 40 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Radiation Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
202040
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Employers usually require applicants to complete an associate or a bachelor’s degree program in radiation therapy. Individuals also may qualify by completing an associate or a bachelor’s degree program in radiography, which is the study of radiological imaging, and then completing a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy programs include core courses on radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. Many employers require training be completed in a program approved by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Experience

Volunteering in a health care setting can provide valuable experience to prepare for this occupation.

Early Career Planning

Recommended high school courses include biology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, speech, and computer science. Introductory courses for health care careers are offered by some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Keeping up to date with technological developments in this industry is integral for the Radiation Therapist. California requires 24 units of approved continuing education credits every two years to renew California's certification/permit. To maintain ARRT certification, 24 hours of approved course credits are required every two years.

Certification

In California a certificate is required to use X rays and must be displayed at the worksite. While the Radiologic Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health issues certifications/permits, it requires applicants to take the exam through ARRT.

To become ARRTcertified, an applicant must complete an accredited radiation therapy program, adhere to ARRT ethical standards, and pass the ARRT certification examination. Misdemeanors, felonies, alcohol and drug violations, and school honor code violations are investigated by ARRT's Ethics Committee.

In order to use the ARRT credential or Registered Technologist (R.T.) designation, the individual must annually register the certification with ARRT. Requirements to register include paying annual dues and satisfying continuing education requirements. California does not require ARRT certification renewal to renew the California certification/permit. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Radiation Therapists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 65.9%
Offices of Physicians 18.0%
Outpatient Care Centers 7.2%
Colleges and Universities 4.6%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices of their school or through professional associations. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Radiation Therapists.

  • Cancer Treatment Centers
  • Hospitals
  • Oncology
  • Radiation
  • Radiology

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Experienced Radiation Therapists may advance to manage radiation therapy programs in treatment centers or other health care facilities. Managers generally continue to treat patients while taking on management responsibilities. Other advancement opportunities include teaching, technical sales, and research. With additional training and certification, Therapists may also become dosimetrists.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Radiation Therapists with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Cardiovascular Technologists and TechniciansGuide
Dental AssistantsGuide
Dental HygienistsGuide
Nuclear Medicine TechnologistsGuide
OptometristsGuide
OrthodontistsProfile
Radiologic Technologists and Technicians*Guide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1124
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Radiation Therapists29-1124.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SRC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Medical Radiologic Technology/Science - Radiation Therapist 510907
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Radiation Therapy Technician122600