Radiation Therapy Career Questions

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Comments (4)

Mike in Aurora, Colorado

12 months ago

I'm interested in radiation therapy as a career, but I have some questions about the job that I would like to ask here. My questions are primarily intended for those who are currently certified and employed as radiation therapists. Although if others have some insight into these questions please feel free to respond.

I'm rather uncomfortable about the idea of performing invasive procedures on patients with needles and the like. I was initially under the impression that radiation therapy primarily involved the application of targeted radiation and was not very invasive for patients. This is actually part of why the career appealed to me, because it didn't seem like you had to do anything bloody, invasive, or "gross" to patients. Is this an inaccurate perception of the job?

1.) What are some of the more "gross" things you must do or deal with as a radiation therapist? Are they a common part of the job?

2.) Are radiation therapists trained to do contrast media injections? Is the use of needles/injections a routine part of the job?

3.) Are radiation therapists trained to use x-ray, ultrasound, or CT equipment? Are they required to be certified in these imaging modalities?

4.) Are radiation therapists trained to perform or assist with brachytherapy?

5.) Is the job market generally unfavorable for new graduates of radiation therapy programs? If so, do you see this changing anytime soon?

6.) Is radiation therapy as a career vulnerable to the state of economy? If so, how is this possible? Don't people always seek treatment for cancer, regardless of the economy or their financial situation?

7.) Are the majority of the patients you see terminally ill? If not, about what percentage of patients are terminally ill?

8.) What do you like and dislike most about the job?

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Shiloh Litton in Salisbury, Maryland

12 months ago

As a general rule, there is not much grossness involved in Rad Onc. Occasionally you do get a very nasty tumor which is open. When they are, they are not pleasant to look at and they have an awful odor.

Tattoos are routine. It's just a little pin prick and only leaves a small dot about the size of a freckle. Yes, we do administer contrast when it is ordered. Many departments have the nursing staff start the IV's and some require the simulation therapist to do it.

We do take X-Rays, but nothing like the diagnostic X-rays. Some sites use Ultrasound to isolate the prostate, and most sites use CT's as part of their simulation for treatment planning. Yes, you will receive training, and no, you do not need further certification as those modalities are used for planning, not diagnostics.

This is also department specific as to how involved the therapist is with brachy procedures. Often the therapist will assist with vaginal and breast treatments. While it is not unheard of, most sites do not have the therapist in on O.R. cases (prostate seeds).

The job market is equally unfavorable to new grads and vets. It is tough right now and has been for several years. The key is to network!! You will find something with a little patience.

It is in the sense that there are financial cutbacks throughout the industry. Reimbursement is less, and therefore they may opt to work with fewer staff.

Many of our patients are terminally ill. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the disease. I would say about 40%ish are. In those cases, you can't look at them that way. You have to know that you are giving them some relief from their pain.

The best part of being a therapist is the patients!!! They are the most amazing, most humble, and most appreciative people…usually. Sometimes if you have a doctor who makes a simple procedure difficult and the patient is lying on the hard table for a long period of time crying because they are in so much pain….THAT gets frustrating.

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Mike in Aurora, Colorado

12 months ago

Thanks so much for the reply Shiloh. Its great to hear from someone in the industry.

I would love to hear from others as well, as some of my questions are subjective and answers can vary.

I've thought of another question I meant to ask. I don't mean to come across as negative or pessimistic, but does dealing with cancer patients and cancer in general ever get depressing or weigh heavily on you as the therapist? Shiloh mentioned that many patients are terminally ill. Isn't it hard to see someone near death?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of the patients. I'm sure the patients are inspiring through the courage and strength they demonstrate while fighting cancer. I'm just concerned that the job could also be a downer sometimes...

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Shiloh Litton in Salisbury, Maryland

12 months ago

Mike in Aurora, Colorado said: Thanks so much for the reply Shiloh. Its great to hear from someone in the industry.

I would love to hear from others as well, as some of my questions are subjective and answers can vary.

I've thought of another question I meant to ask. I don't mean to come across as negative or pessimistic, but does dealing with cancer patients and cancer in general ever get depressing or weigh heavily on you as the therapist? Shiloh mentioned that many patients are terminally ill. Isn't it hard to see someone near death?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of the patients. I'm sure the patients are inspiring through the courage and strength they demonstrate while fighting cancer. I'm just concerned that the job could also be a downer sometimes...

You are welcome. I don't know of anyone in the field who look at this as depressing. Again, you have to look at things differently. When they do go, it is a relieve from the pain they have been having to endure. You are helping make their final days more comfortable. Radiation is not only used to cure cancer. It is also used in many cases as a tool to control pain. When cancer gets into the bones, it is a pain unlike any other. Radiation helps with that.

I'm not going to lie, there are some patients who just really pull on your heart strings. You become attached sometimes and it sucks knowing that they will most likely not make it. But overall, that isn't a problem.

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