Radiation therapists are a vital part of the healthcare system. A radiation therapist can help with various health concerns, including cancer treatment, premature aging, DNA damage, cumulative trauma disorders, gene mutations, and other health problems.
A radiation therapist works closely with cancer patients to provide transformative treatment and support in terminal situations. A radiation therapist can form close connections with patients and make a difference in their lives.
Like other careers, being a radiation therapist comes with risks and rewards. The ability to form individualized relationships with patients and provide life-changing care is an excellent aspect of radiation therapist careers. However, exposure to these intense situations can create emotional strain or burnout.
Before considering a career as a radiation therapist, it is essential to know the facts about radiation, how treatment works, and what to expect from the job.
Is Being a Radiation Therapist Dangerous?
Pursuing a career as a radiation therapist requires daily radiation exposure. While long-term radiation exposure can be dangerous, the dangers of being a radiation therapist are low. As the field has progressed, many safety precautions and systems have been implemented to keep practitioners and patients safe.
Due to the nature of radiation therapy, therapists face some risk of exposure to radiation or radioactive material. While long-term exposure has some risks, proper safety protocols limit the risks. Over the past 50 years, safety regulations have significantly reduced health risks in medical professionals exposed to high radiation levels.
As a radiation therapist, it is essential to understand where the risks come from to avoid dangerous mistakes and ensure patient safety.
Health Impacts of Radiation Exposure
Humans face exposure to low levels of radiation every day. Like any other toxin, the radiation dosage is where the risk rises. Americans receive a radiation dose of about 0.62 rem (620 millirems) each year.
Types of Exposure
While even low radiation levels can pose health risks, those exposed to levels significantly higher (think “atomic blast”) than the average amount are more subject to radiation-related disorders.
Acute exposure involves short-term, high-dose exposure to radiation. This exposure can cause acute radiation syndrome (ARS).
Those suffering from ARS might experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting, which may progress to organ failure and even death. It is important to seek medical care immediately if you believe you are suffering from ARS.
Long-term exposure involves exposure to consistent doses of radiation over an extended period. The risk of cancer increases with this exposure.
Most radiation therapists work in medical clinics or hospitals, requiring specific safety measures to keep patients and therapists safe. In any healthcare job involving direct contact with sick patients, it is essential to follow proper sanitary procedures.
Wear disposable gloves
When handling radiation equipment or working with patients during radiation treatments, it is essential to wear disposable gloves. Wearing gloves will help to prevent skin damage caused by radiation. Prolonged direct skin exposure to radiation may cause radiation dermatitis or skin irritation in the exposed area.
Wear a radiation cap
Radiation caps are an excellent safety precaution for cancer patients and radiation therapists. Wearing a radiation cap can protect the head from radiation.
Ensure equipment operates properly
It is the job of hospitals to ensure that all equipment is operating correctly. By maintaining radiotherapy equipment, hospitals can not only enhance and protect patient care but also ensure the safety of the radiation therapist.
How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Before jumping into a career as a radiation therapist, it is essential to understand how radiation therapy works. Primarily used as a treatment for cancer patients, radiation has direct impacts on cancerous cells.
High radiation doses can slow down and kill cancerous cells in the body. The primary role of radiation treatment is to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
Types of Radiation Therapy
There are several types of radiation therapy treatment options. When choosing a treatment option, the goal is to find the safest and most effective treatment for the patient.
Each type of therapy is effective in different areas of the body and depends on details like the size of the tumor, the type of cancer, and the patient’s medical history. A radiation therapist must educate patients on their particular conditions and treatment options.
External Beam Therapy
External beam therapy is a local treatment option, meaning it only targets a specific part of your body. It involves a large machine that directs radiation toward the cancerous area without any physical contact. These treatments are typically administered daily over a short period.
Brachytherapy is a type of internal therapy that involves inserting solid radioactive material inside the patient’s body, typically near the cancerous area. This body area becomes a radioactive source for some time, so it is important to handle it cautiously.
Systemic Radiation Therapy
Systemic radiation therapy kills cancerous cells throughout the body by administering liquid radioactive material into the bloodstream. This material travels through the bloodstream and destroys cancerous cells. Systemic radiation therapy can cause all bodily liquids to become radioactive for some time.
Starting a Career as a Radiation Therapist
Pursuing a career in radiation therapy can be a rewarding experience. Radiation therapists work in various settings like private clinics or hospitals and directly impact patients by interpreting test results and administering treatment.
While radiation therapists cannot prescribe medications, they can develop treatment plans based on the prescriptions provided by a patient’s radiation oncologist.
Radiation therapists work with extremely sick or terminal patients, often forming close connections with them throughout their treatment. Working with patients in pain or facing end-of-life can be detrimental to a therapist’s mental health.
Because of this, the field of radiation therapy is not suitable for everyone. Radiation therapists are compassionate, empathetic, and strong individuals who help to ease patient suffering. It is important to remember that as a radiation therapist, you are making an incredible difference in the lives of your patients and their families.
As a radiation therapist, there is always a risk of losing a patient who has become close to you. These situations are never easy and can often cause extreme burnout and exhaustion for medical professionals.
When suffering from burnout, it is vital to reach out for help. Consulting with fellow medical staff or participating in workplace programs can help when coping with burnout.
Medical professionals can utilize many online resources to gain emotional support during burnout situations, including:
- The Emotional PPE Project
- Therapy Aid Coalition
- Frontline Therapy Network
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Taking time away from work to recover is essential. Besides receiving professional help, there are ways to cope with burnout at an individual level. Getting proper rest, engaging in meditation or mindfulness activities, and remaining social can help alleviate the strain of burnout.
While there are heightened risks of burnout involved with being a radiation therapist, it is an enriching career that allows you to provide life-changing treatment to sick patients.
How to Become a Radiation Therapist
To become a radiation therapist, a person must first receive a Bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology or a similar field. After graduating, a person must pass a national exam to become a certified radiation therapist.
Some employers prefer to hire therapists who have received certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), a program offering additional certification courses. The ARRT requires an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree before enrolling in certification programs.
Radiation Therapist Jobs
There is a lot of opportunity for career advancement in the field of radiation therapy, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job outlook to increase by 6% in the next ten years.
While many radiation therapists choose to work in local hospitals, some may choose to pursue traveling radiation therapist jobs. Seeking a traveling radiation therapist job can help to avoid burnout and disinterest.
Traveling allows therapists to work wherever they want while immensely impacting patients’ lives. Click APPLY to find the perfect travel radiation therapy job for you.