Radiation Therapy Profession
Description of the Profession
Radiation therapists are health care professionals skilled in the art and science of medical radiation treatment delivery. The majority of patients receiving radiation therapy have cancer. Along with surgery and chemotherapy, radiation therapy offers these patients the best chance to succeed in the fight against their disease. The major focus areas of the profession are the primary care of patients, simulation, treatment, planning, and delivery of treatments utilizing linear accelerator produced radiation and radio-isotopes. Aims of treatment include cure, relief of symptoms, and improvement of patients’ quality of life. High technology equipment and innovative treatment methods are utilized to maximize treatment effectiveness. Radiation therapists must have excellent technical skills, but must also be empathetic and effective communicators. Much satisfaction is gained from close patient interaction and the specialty’s team approach with radiation oncologists, physicists, nurses and other medical specialists. Radiation Therapy is "technology with a human touch."
According to the American Society of Radiological Technologists, the professional society, the Scope of Practice of a Radiation Therapist includes, but is not limited to:
- Providing radiation therapy services by contributing as an essential member of the radiation oncology treatment team through provision of total quality care of each patient undergoing a prescribed course of treatment.
- Evaluating and assessing treatment delivery components.
- Providing radiation therapy treatment delivery services to cure or improve the quality of life of patients by accurately delivering a prescribed course of treatment.
- Evaluating and assessing daily, the physiological and psychological responsiveness of each patient to treatment delivery.
- Maintaining values congruent with the profession’s code of ethics and scope of practice as well as adhering to national, institutional and/or departmental standards, policies and procedures regarding treatment delivery and patient care.
Essential Functions of a Radiation Therapist
"Radiation therapy technology is the art and science
of treatment delivery to individuals to restore, improve and enhance
performance, diminish or eradicate pathology, facilitate adaptation to
the diagnosis of malignant disease, and to promote and maintain health."
(From the Radiation Therapist Scope of Practice document, published by the ASRT).
Persons contemplating educational preparation to enter this profession should be aware of the essential functions of the radiation therapist in order to guide their career decision making and estimate their success in the field.
According to the Scope of Practice, the following are essential functions of the profession which are further defined by the specific activities and abilities which underlie them.
- Providing radiation therapy services by
contributing as an essential member of the radiation oncology
treatment team through provision of total quality care of each
patient undergoing a prescribed course of treatment by:
- Communicating effectively with patients, their families and other members of the radiation oncology team.
- Being physically, intellectually, and emotionally able to respond to emergency situations, providing first aid, CPR and other patient care until a physician or nurse arrives.
- Being capable of handling stressful situations, making informed decisions and giving emotional support to patients and their families.
- Listening and responding to auditory warnings such as Geiger counters, bells in the treatment room, hospital fire announcements and monitoring of patient sounds during treatment.
- Performing required mathematical calculations.
- Documenting accurately and legibly, treatment setups, doses and calculations.
- Using good judgment in regard to situations in which treatment should be held until consultation with the radiation oncologists.
- Evaluating and assessing treatment delivery
- Manually performing quality assurance and quality control checks.
- Observing monitors and scales to note divergence from expected readings.
- Detecting equipment malfunctions and taking appropriate action.
- Providing radiation therapy treatment delivery
services to cure or improve the quality of life of patients by
accurately delivering a prescribed course of treatment by:
- Assisting patients in transferring from a wheelchair or cart to the treatment couch and becoming correctly positioned for treatment, at times including lifting.
- Operating, handling and manipulating equipment necessary to administer radiation therapy.
- Using strength, coordination and dexterity to lift and position cerrobend blocks, electron cones, wedges and other accessories, up to 40 pounds in weight to a height of approximately 5'6".
- Visually observing patients before, during and after treatment, setting field size and monitor unit settings, aligning treatment fields and blocks, and reviewing radiographs and beam films.
- Constructing immobilization devices.
- Evaluating and assessing daily, the physiologic
and psychological responsiveness of each patient to treatment
- Communicating effectively with patients and their families.
- Listening carefully to patient and family concerns.
- Observing patients for signs of radiation side effects and psychological change.
- Using good judgment in referring patients to other members of the radiation oncology team appropriately.
- Providing appropriate care specific to the age of the patient.
- Providing effective patient education.
- Maintaining values congruent with the
profession's code of ethics and scope of practice as well as
adhering to national, institutional and/or departmental standards,
policies and procedures regarding treatment delivery and patient
- Strictly maintaining confidentiality of patient information.
- Respecting and acting appropriately toward all patients and fellow team members regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, sexual preference or disability.
- Supporting patient rights, particularly those of informed consent and advance directives.
A national registry exam is offered by American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Students may apply to take the registry exam after meeting all requirements for graduation and schedule the computerized exam for a convenient location and time. According to the ARRT, a graduate has three opportunities to pass the examination, after which, they must return to school for additional training. Applicants and students are advised that "Rules of Ethics" are established by the ARRT. These are standards of minimally acceptable professional conduct for all Registered Technologists and applicants. They are intended to promote the protection, safety and comfort of patients. Violation of the Rules of Ethics carries sanctions, including, among others, not being allowed to sit for the exam or forfeiting certification. One issue addressed by the Rules of Ethics is the conviction of a crime, including a felony or a misdemeanor with the exception of speeding and parking violations. All alcohol and/or drug related violations must be reported. Convictions must also be reported. All potential violations must be investigated by the ARRT in order to determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Individuals may file a pre-application with the ARRT to obtain a ruling on eligibility at any time prior to or after entry into an accredited educational program. The pre-application must be requested directly from the ARRT (telephone (651) 687-0048).
Radiation therapists may work in hospital departments or free standing facilities. Options for diversification and advancement present in dosimetry, management and education. Therapists may also work in sales and technical support. The number of job openings vary with time and location, but are currently adequate in number.