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Fight Cancer as a Radiation Therapist

Fight Cancer as a Radiation Therapist

Wendy J. Meyeroff | Monster Contributing Writer

October 15, 2009

Medical advances have made radiation therapists among the most sought-after specialists in the field of radiologic technology.

“Improvements in cancer treatment have enhanced survival rates, so there are more patients requiring therapy,” according to a study by Allied Consulting, a national healthcare staffing firm in Austin. Indeed, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects much faster-than–average job growth for radiation therapists through 2016.

Practicing radiation therapists say two aspects of their work make it an especially attractive career. First, there’s the opportunity to play an integral role in patients’ recovery. Second, they enjoy the challenges that arise from the medical and scientific advances associated with cancer treatment.

Pinpointing Cancer

Working as part of a team supervised by radiation oncologists, radiation therapists deliver ionizing radiation to a precise point in the body. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with the other two methods used to treat cancer — surgery and chemotherapy.

Leila Bussman-Yeakel, RT(T), program director of radiation therapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says radiation therapists must be sticklers for details. “It’s not like an X-ray, where if you slightly misposition the patient, you can do it over,” she explains. “You must precisely hit that cancer without damaging healthy tissue nearby.”

Maureen Larkin, RT(T), technical director of radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), says that one-on-one patient interaction is a critical part of this job. “You’re not just pushing a button,” she says. “You work with that patient every day,” usually for several weeks.

That’s why compassion and empathy are critical. “You see people every day who are not only trying to cope with cancer, but wondering about things like, ‘Will I get to my daughter’s graduation?’” Bussman-Yeakel says.

Training Notes

In most states, radiation therapists must pass a two-year training course and then become certified. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists administers the national certification exam. In addition, some states require radiation therapists to be licensed.

While a degree is not yet required, experts recommend that aspiring radiation therapists earn a bachelor’s degree, since, by the time they finish both the training and certification, they’re only about 30 credits shy of a bachelor’s anyway.