How to Become a Radiation Therapist:
The Definitive Guide


As a Radiation Therapist, you will work hands-on with people battling the toughest illness, cancer.

This is why you’ll need to be a strong, empathetic person in order to succeed in this career.

A Radiation Therapist assists those suffering from cancer by providing radiation therapy.

In this career, it’s important to work as a team-Radiation Therapists work closely with oncologists, medical physicists, and other medical staff to ensure patients are treated right.


What is a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation Therapists work diligently to make sure that cancer patients are getting the proper treatment they need to fight their battle.

In this role, a Radiation Therapist gathers data from their patients, as well as administers medications depending on the doctor’s orders.

There is also an importance in this career on sanitation, all equipment must be sanitized and cleaned after every use.

You won’t be working alone as a Radiation Therapist, as you’ll be in the loop with other doctors, nurses, and medical staff to make sure your patient is on the right track.

Duties

Being an important part of the medical team, a Radiation Therapist has several tasks that must be performed throughout the day:

  • Clean and sanitize equipment
  • Position patient for radiation therapy
  • Explain procedures and answer any questions
  • Administer correct dosage of radiation to patients
  • Monitor patient
  • Record data
  • Communicate with other team members

Salary

Those looking to have a career as a Radiation Therapist will be pleased to know that the average salary is around $90,000 a year in most areas.

Radiation Therapists who work in small towns or less populated states will likely make less money throughout the year, and those working in large cities will have the most advancement opportunities.

At the top of this career, it’s possible to make $130,000 in some areas.

States like California pay their Radiation Therapists $119,000 a year, while Radiation Therapists in Illinois can expect to make closer to $80,000 a year.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $91,620

$59K
$70K
$91K
$105K
$128K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$87,880
Arizona$93,450
Arkansas$75,260
California$119,800
Colorado$94,280
Connecticut$100,040
Delaware$99,350
District of Columbia$81,300
Florida$84,060
Georgia$87,610
Hawaii$98,240
Idaho$80,070
Illinois$84,420
Indiana$81,660
Iowa$82,220
Kansas$72,140
Kentucky$77,180
Louisiana$75,800
Maryland$89,570
Massachusetts$92,950
Michigan$81,140
Minnesota$84,020
Mississippi$93,370
Missouri$77,200
Montana$94,100
Nebraska$83,810
Nevada$97,780
New Hampshire$89,230
New Jersey$106,630
New Mexico$87,590
New York$115,150
North Carolina$79,160
Ohio$87,770
Oregon$105,810
Pennsylvania$84,310
Rhode Island$100,720
South Carolina$97,070
South Dakota$85,410
Tennessee$73,780
Texas$90,270
Virginia$88,600
Washington$101,630
West Virginia$74,030
Wisconsin$79,850
Puerto Rico- NA -

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $119,800.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $119,800
New York - $115,150
New Jersey - $106,630
Oregon - $105,810
Washington - $101,630
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Step 1Become Educated

The basic education to become a Radiation Therapist is an Associate’s degree.

Typically, you can find Radiation Therapist programs both online and in-person, which can be convenient for all types of lifestyles.

An Associate’s degree is a program that takes about two years to finish and provides the minimum education to become a Radiation Therapist.

Along with math, science, and psychology classes, you’ll also take courses like:

  • Ethics and Law in Radiology
  • Oncology
  • Pathology
  • Microbiology
  • Treatment Setups and Procedures
  • Patient Care and Security

Along with classroom time, most programs require an internship and clinical labs in order to graduate.

Most internships can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to finish, and typically can be done while in school.

This provides hands-on experience and helps students step into the medical field.

Step 2Gain Licensure and Certification

Once you have gained a degree, you’ll need to become certified and licensed in most states.

Not all states require licensure, but at least 75% of them do. 

This is something you’ll need to find out beforehand, but if you need to become licensed, there are some requirements:

  • Have graduated with at least an Associates degree
  • Have had some hands-on experience as a Radiation Therapist
  • Pass an exam
  • Have good morals and ethics
  • Pay fees

The exam consists of 200 to 220 questions that are designated to Radiation Therapy. 

Once you take the exam and pass it, you will be licensed in the state in which you live.

Certification isn’t the same as licensure, so make sure that you know your state’s requirements.

Certification shows employers and patients that you are competent in the career.

The ARRT provides certification for Radiation Therapists, but there are other associations that have certifications as well.

In order to become certified as a Radiation Therapist, you will need to:

  • Have at least an Associates degree
  • Pass an exam
  • Have good morals and ethics
  • Finishing an education program

This exam also consists of about 200 multiple-choice questions.

Passing this exam and completing education will gain you many opportunities as a Radiation Therapist.

Step 3Gain Employment

After you complete an education program and become certified, you should look for career openings.

Oftentimes, Radiation Therapists have had some hands-on experience while in school, so you shouldn’t go in completely in the dark.

Working an internship and doing clinical labs can provide much-needed knowledge and education before beginning your new job.

Some Radiation Therapists can even find employment at the place that they did their internship.

Most Radiation Therapists with an Associate’s degree can expect an entry-level career in this field.

Some of the areas in which you can find employment as a Radiation Therapist include:

  • Hospitals
  • Cancer centers
  • Colleges and universities

If you are interested in pursuing a more specific career or want to further your education, there are always opportunities for Radiation Therapists.

Step 4Advance Your Career

The first thing that you can do to advance your career as a Radiation Therapist is to gain further education.

This can be done by obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, which can take another two years to finish.

Most Bachelor’s degrees are specific to the field that you want to work in, although some universities require common courses like English and math.

With a Bachelors degree in Radiation Therapy, you can expect to take courses that include:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Patient Care
  • Radiobiology
  • Operational Issues
  • Quality Assurance

It’s likely that many clinical labs and even an internship may be necessary in order to graduate.

With this type of degree, there are many career options:

  • Medical Dosimetrist
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Nuclear Medical Technologist
  • Registered Radiation Therapist

Education

As of now, most employers require that Radiation Therapists have at least an Associate’s degree.

These degrees can be gained from universities, community colleges, and other facilities throughout the country.

It’s even possible to earn a Radiation Therapist degree online, but always remember that any clinicals or internships should be done in person.

Most programs require that students enroll in an internship or externship, and also that they work clinicals to showcase their knowledge of the medical field.

On average, an Associate’s degree can take about two years to complete for full-time students.

Along with the basic classes that you’ll take for this type of degree, some of the other courses include:

  • Treatment Setups
  • Methods of Patient Care
  • Medical Terminology
  • Record Keeping
  • Ethics and Law
  • Radiobiology
  • Pathology

A typical Radiation Therapist program allows students to work while going to school, often gaining hands-on experience as well as classroom knowledge at the same time.

If you are interested in a Bachelor’s degree, there are options out there online and in-person as well.

Most Bachelor’s degrees take about four years to finish, especially if you are a full-time student.

This type of degree can open many doors in the medical field.

An advanced Radiation Therapist would do well earning a Bachelor’s degree.

Some of the types of courses that can be expected for this degree include:

  • Clinical Radiation and Oncology
  • Treatment Techniques
  • Quality Assurance
  • Image Review
  • Principles of Radiography
  • Radiation Protection

Having a degree isn’t the only thing that a Radiation Therapist needs to do, some employers even require earning a certification in order to be legally able to work as a Radiation Therapist.

Ensure that your degree is eligible to obtain certification, many accreditation companies exist across the country for Radiation Therapists.

Most schools will let you know beforehand if they are accredited. 

Video About The Career


Certification and Licensing

Through the American Registry of Radiation Technologists, Radiation Therapists can earn the Radiation Therapy credential.

This certification provides credibility to Radiation Therapists and shows clients, patients, and employers that you have the knowledge necessary to do a good job.

In order to be eligible for the Radiation Therapy certification, you will need to have at least an Associate’s degree.

Also, you will have to complete an ARRT program that works with the credential you are interested in.

These programs can take anywhere from 6 weeks to several months to finish.

It’s incredibly important that you show good moral character and ethics when looking to become a Radiation Therapist.

Lastly, you will be required to take an exam in order to gain certification.

This exam is computer-based and consists of anywhere from 200 to 220 questions.

There are typically many different areas that the exam covers.

Some of the topics that you can expect to take for the Radiation Therapy certification exam include:

  • Patient Care
  • Patient Interactions
  • Radiation Physics
  • Safety and Protection
  • Procedures
  • Treatments
  • Prescriptions and Dose Calculations

Passing the exam will provide you with certification as a Radiation Therapist.

You have 3 years from the time you graduate to become certified, or else you will need to gain more education.

Some states also require that Radiation Therapists earn a license in order to practice.

This license isn’t the same thing as certification, and the two must be done separately.

However, it’s possible to become state-licensed through the American Registry of Radiation Technologists as well.

To become licensed, you’ll need to have a degree and also take an exam.

Most licensing exams for Radiation Therapists take about 4 hours to complete.

On the exam, you’ll find multiple-choice questions covering the same topics as the certification exam.

Having licensure and certification in this field increases the chances of employment and other possibilities.

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

In order to become certified as a Radiation Therapist, you will need to attend an education program.

ARRT has many education programs that work well for Radiation Therapists.

These programs can last anywhere from 6 weeks to several months, depending on the type of program you enter.

Most programs require some type of lab or hands-on experience, which can add time but increases knowledge of the field.

Some credentials don’t require classroom time, just an exam that must be taken up to three years after earning a degree.

Popular Degree Programs


Job Outlook

Jobs for Radiation Therapists are going to be around for quite some time.

It looks as if this career will grow around 7 percent over the next ten years.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States, and the numbers are rising with the aging Baby Boomer population.

This means that there will be more jobs for Radiation Therapists.

This is a sad fact, but also provides more opportunity for advanced treatments and various techniques to tackle the disease.

Radiation Therapists who have several years of experience and certification will typically find more career opportunities than someone with no formal education or experience.

Employment Growth Projection: 7%

18,500
2018
19,900
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 1,400 jobs.

Radiation Therapist: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Radiation Therapist?

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall Satisfaction

Working as a Radiation Therapist can be very rewarding, but also sad and stressful at times.

Many Radiation Therapists love their job because they feel that they are helping people, but also find it hard to do sometimes because of the emotional toll it can take.

Those who are very emotional and have thin skin will not do well in this career.

Expect to work long hours with sick patients, having to be cheerful and positive is part of the job.

Average Salary: High

Average Salary

With a career as a Radiation Therapist, you can expect to make close to $90,000 a year on average.

This career requires some education, so the pay is increased when you earn a degree or certification.

Those at the top of their career as a Radiation Therapist should expect a salary closer to almost $130,000 a year.

When just starting out as a Radiation Therapist, the salary could look more like $60,000 annually.

It’s easy to gain promotions and raises in this type of career, especially in heavily populated areas or areas with a large elderly population.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

If you are thinking of gaining employment as a Radiation Therapist, now is the time.

This career will likely grow around 7 percent in the next decade.

The reason for this growth is that there are more technological advancements in Radiation therapy and also the Baby Boomer population is aging, increasing the occurrence of cancer in the country.

Obtaining employment in this career will be easier for those with prior knowledge of the job and those who have some type of formal education.

This is not a career that you can start right out of high school, but the opportunities open up for those with certification and education.

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

Education Duration

The minimum requirement to work as a Radiation Therapist is an Associate’s degree.

This type of degree can take about two years to finish from a community college or university for full-time students.

Earning a Bachelor’s degree is another way to ensure promotions and raises and other opportunities.

This type of degree can take about four years to finish and can be done online or in-person at some schools.

Most programs require an internship or externship in order to graduate, which can take anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

If you have dreams of becoming a great Radiation Therapist, then you are going to need to possess certain characteristics.

Not only do Radiation Therapists need to have a great team working skills, but they must also have patience and empathy.

Some of the other traits of a great Radiation Therapist include:

  • Customer service skills
  • Persistence
  • Math and science knowledge
  • Medical knowledge
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Ability to work alone 
  • Compassion
  • A good sense of ethics
  • Decision-making skills
  • Physical and mental stamina
  • Great bedside manner

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Radiation Therapist make per year?

A Radiation Therapist has a very important job, that’s why they make close to $90,000 a year on average.

Having credentials and experience in this career will also help you boast high salaries, up to $130,000 in some areas.

Just starting out in this career, it is likely that you will make closer to $60,000, to begin with.

Salary depends on the population of the city where you work, as well as the number of elderly people in the community.

Q. What does a Radiation Therapist do?

Working with an entire medical team, a Radiation Therapist assists patients with radiation procedures.

Those who have cancer may have to do radiation therapy to try and control or get rid of the illness, and a Radiation Therapist is there to help the entire time.

Most of the time, you can find a Radiation Therapist cleaning equipment, doing paperwork, and assisting patients with radiation procedures.

Q. How long does it take to become a Radiation Therapist?

For entry-level jobs as a Radiation Therapist, you should expect to take about two years to earn an Associate’s degree.

These can be obtained online or in-person but should include clinical labs and an internship.

Sometimes, internships can take longer but will provide much more experience in the long run.

Those who want more education can opt for a Bachelor’s degree, which will take about four years to finish.

Q. What is the demand for Radiation Therapists?

More radiation labs and hospitals are popping up all over the country.

Sadly, cancer is still one of the leading killers in the United States, so Radiation Therapists will likely be around for quite some time.

In fact, the career opportunities for Radiation Therapists will grow around 7 percent over the next ten years.

That’s higher than many other careers in the medical field.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Radiation Therapist?

If you go to a university, an Associate’s degree can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.

At community college, that could be much less, at around $8,000.

However, earning a Bachelor’s degree can cost up to $40,000 in some areas.

Certification and licensing also have fees, about $200 for each.

All in all, it can cost anywhere from $8,500 to $45,000 to become a Radiation Therapist.


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