A Day in the Life of a Radiation Therapist

For those considering the radiation therapy field, it’s helpful to know what a day looks like in the life of a radiation therapist. After all, you may be passionate about helping cancer patients and interested in radiation therapy, but if the everyday duties aren’t a fit, finding a different path may be best.

Are you wondering if joining a team of radiation therapists is the right line of work for you? Then you need to know about the facts of a day in a radiation therapy department. Learn everything you need to know to make an informed decision about your future.

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What Is a Typical Day for a Radiation Therapist?

Most radiation therapists enjoy the dayshift at hospitals and institutions in the radiation & oncology departments. Radiation therapists spend their days ensuring that patients going through cancer treatments get the treatment and support they need to get one step closer to beating cancer for good.

Because patients schedule their cancer treatments out in advance, a day of work in radiation therapy is structured and predictable — not always standard in the medical field.

How Many Days a Week Does a Radiation Therapist Work?

When determining how many days radiation therapists work each week, it comes down to where they work and how many hours are in their shifts. Some institutions may require 12-hour shifts. But then radiation therapists only come in 3 days a week. However, this is less common.

A typical day for radiation therapists consists of 8-hour shifts. Based on this time required for each shift, radiation therapists only work five days each week.

The exact time and day you need to come in will depend on your team and the institution’s treatment schedule. When you start on the team at a lower position, you may take less desirable hours like on the weekend. But a large portion of clinics only has standard business day hours for radiation therapists to see patients.

What Does a Radiation Therapist Do on a Daily Basis?

Radiation therapists are dedicated to helping patients with radiation therapy. A radiation team will meet with patients and ensure that everything is prepared explicitly for radiation treatments. Let’s look closer at what a shift looks like for radiation therapists.

Beginning a Shift

When first starting a shift, a radiation therapist needs to prepare for the day. This means they first need to review the patients they will see during the day, what treatments they’ll administer, and any special needs they may need to prep.

After the first preparations, they prepare the treatment spaces and ensure every room and machine is ready for patients. They may need to inspect the machinery to ensure it’s ready for the day before patients arrive.

During a Shift

As patients arrive for treatment, it’s time to focus on treating. Much of the work in radiation therapy is interacting with a patient as they undergo treatment. This may involve answering questions about their therapy that day or previously, providing emotional support to the patient directly or their family, and keeping the patient comfortable and healthy.

Throughout the day, the duties of inspecting and maintaining the equipment in each room continue, so it’s not purely patient interactions that make up a shift. When the treatments for the day are completed, it’s time to shut down the machinery, record any additional notes, and head home.

What Radiation Therapists Do

Now you’ve seen what a day looks like for radiation therapists. But what exactly do they do during each shift? Here’s what you should know first before enrolling in any therapy program.

Patient Care

Radiation therapy is a practice of killing cancer cells through high radiation levels, shrinking the malignant cells. This is an essential part of the healthcare system. So therapists must be dedicated to conducting every treatment with precision and accuracy while providing patients with the help they need, such as answering questions related to treatment.

Working with Machines

The way therapists conduct radiation therapy is through machines that include linear accelerators. These deliver high-energy x-rays. The intense x-ray technology shrinks the cancerous part of the body in patients. Radiation therapists must be comfortable providing this treatment to patients.

Tracking and Reviewing Patient Information

When you have so many radiation treatments in one institution, diligent tracking and reviewing is a must in the day in the life of radiation therapists. When you don’t take diligent notes, the next radiation therapy session may lack valuable, essential information on the patient.

Continuous attention to detail and sharing important information with a team is an essential duty of radiation therapists.

Is Radiation Therapy a Stressful Job?

Radiation therapist patient

No job in healthcare is entirely free of stress. However, one job in health that is less stressful is radiation therapy. You’re not diagnosing, there aren’t emergencies (mostly scheduled treatment sessions), and you come to know your patients and know what to expect each day.

However, some factors may cause stress that someone should consider and decide whether these can be handled.

Determining Proper Treatment & Areas

Before conducting a treatment, therapists must perform a simulation. This determines where a patient requires care. However, if this isn’t performed correctly, the therapy could be a waste, and the patient’s course may suffer.

Patient Care

Treatment is a difficult part of any patient’s life. There’s not only their medical needs and the physical toll that treatment takes, but the emotional side of treatment as well. To see cancer patients every day can be a challenging part of your job. Providing emotional support to both patients and their families through radiation treatments can weigh on you. If you’re not comfortable interacting with people in vulnerable states, this may not be an ideal position.

Machine Maintenance

To complete any radiation program, you will learn how to operate all the machinery you’d find in a radiation therapy room. However, If you don’t care for the machinery well before treatment, you could run into a serious problem like an improper simulation or incorrect cells counts.

Having a problem with machinery can be stressful. But if you stay calm and remember your training, can you solve just about any problem for your patient.

The Importance of Radiation Therapy

Radiation is an essential treatment in killing cancerous cells and fighting cancer. So for all the people whose life has been changed because of cancer, your team could be saving their lives every day they come in for a new treatment. By just operating a machine, you’re helping someone return to their life before cancer.

How to Become a Radiation Therapist

Does a day in the life of a radiation therapist sound exciting? Then pursuing a career related to radiation could be the perfect step. But what education do you need first, and do you need anything beyond a degree? Here’s what you should know about becoming a radiation therapist.

Complete the Necessary Education Program

Radiation theraphy students

Education is a crucial part of finding employment. This is where you work towards a degree in understanding the radiation technology and what a patient would need from you.

First, whether you spent four years in high school or got your GED (high school degree equivalent), you have the knowledge required from a high school program to move on to higher education in radiation therapy.

Next, you’ll need to do some research to find a two-year degree program that fits your schedule and interests. Look for accredited schools with good reputations.

Once you enroll, it’s time to start studying, so you graduate on time and gain all the knowledge you require to succeed in this career.

Gain Experience in the Field

Most two-year degree programs require an externship. This is essential to graduate from the program with your degree and helps you gain significant connections and increase your likelihood or quality of employment. With the right externship, you’ll have your pick of radiation therapy positions.

By working hands-on in a medical setting, you put the knowledge you’ve learned in the classroom into action. You familiarize yourself with the machinery in a radiation room and the technology you’ll use in your career. The experience may include speaking with patients and developing your communication skills.

When looking at programs, you may first look at their externship policy. You can choose to go somewhere with more classroom time and fewer externship hours, or the opposite. Whatever you think will best prepare you by addressing your weaknesses should be your program choice. It might also be best to choose a school that is hands-on in helping students find an externship.

Obtain Required Certification and Licensing

You have the education and the experience. You’re ready to achieve full employment and become a radiation therapist. However, you’re missing perhaps the most crucial part of all: your new certificate and license.

Any two-year degree program should include all the material you’ll need to pass the ARRT certification test. So once you’ve completed everything for your externship and education, you’re ready to take the test.

Don’t forget that just getting it once isn’t enough. For the rest of your employment, you’ll have to renew your certificate to stay up-to-date on proper licensing.

Why Become a Radiation Therapist

Are you still unsure if employment in radiation therapy is suitable for you? The health world has so many opportunities to work and care for patients, but deciding on a path can be daunting. Here are some benefits to entering the radiation therapy field to consider whether it’s right for you.

Predictability and Flexibility

The typical schedule for going to work as a therapist in this field is the 8-hour, five days a week schedule. This is not always common in the health community as you see nurses working 12-hour shifts and frequent weekend shifts.

However, because these appointments are schedule rather than emergencies, you don’t have to feel committed to ridiculously long hours, weekend times, or being on-call. You will see a majority of the same patients, work with the same team, and come to know everyone very well.

However, you can opt for a setting with more flexibility. The career is varied and different employers will give you different options for scheduling. So based on what you’re looking for in hours and workdays, you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

Help People in Oncology

There are a variety paths within the healthcare community to pursue. But cancer treatments are unique in that it affects everyone, and they all need your help to make sure they get rid of the malignant cells in their body.

You can meet different people while helping them through one of the most difficult times in their lives and become a source of encouragement and support. Working in such a life-changing side of medicine provides you with a unique perspective on life and your purpose.

If you’re passionate about being there for patients in the moment of great medical turmoil, you’re likely to thrive in helping cancer patients.

Choose the Right Setting for You

Radiation treatment is unique to one type of medical setting. You can find employment at a wide range of institutions from clinics to hospitals. You might even provide treatment in a pediatric setting if you work best with children.

With so many options for where you can provide patients with radiation treatment, it’s up to you to find a place that fits your strengths and interests. But as a long-term career path, this means that you can easily move around to clinics with a different focus when you become bored with one setting after years of treating.

Start Your Career as a Radiation Therapist

If the life of a radiation therapist appeals to you, then take advantage of the opportunity to begin a fulfilling career in healthcare. Radiation therapists play an essential role in patient care, and you could spend your day helping cancer patients. There isn’t much in life that’s more rewarding!

Start by researching a program where you can pursue your degree. Once you get your ARRT certification, you’re ready to join a team of radiation therapists and make a difference in patients’ lives.