What Does a Dosimetrist Do?
Dosimetrists play a crucial role in helping to manage radiation therapy for patients with cancerous or benign conditions. Dosimetrists are the medical professionals who determine the proper dosage of radiation that should be used when treating cancer patients. In this article, learn more about medical dosimetry and what it takes to work in the field.
What is a dosimetrist?
Dosimetrists are medical professionals who work in radiation oncology helping to care for cancer patients. Among their various job responsibilities, a dosimetrist has the important task of applying the appropriate dosage of radiation at the correct part of the body. This is typically done through a variety of high-tech medical equipment.
Prior to the treatment, dosimetrists explain the procedure to patients and answer any questions or concerns they may have. They also work closely with physicians to determine the required amount of radiation and duration of treatment. Dosimetrists ensure the safety of patients during treatment and make sure equipment is working properly. After treatments, they monitor patients for any negative side effects. They also keep detailed records of all treatments they have administered.
What does a dosimetrist do?
When a radiation oncologist prescribes radiation to treat a patient's cancer cells or tumor, a dosimetrist develops a plan to deliver the prescribed dose of radiation. The dosimetrist uses a computer that comes with three-dimensional imaging software to contour the patient's organs on a treatment planning CT scan. They may also perform image fusion using CT, MRI or PET/CT to help the radiation oncologist identify where the tumor is located.
The dosimetrist then develops a three-dimensional conformal or intensity-modulated radiation therapy plan and identifies an arrangement of beams to apply the radiation on the patient's tumor or cancer cells while minimizing damage to normal organs. Physics calculations are performed, and the radiation oncologist and medical dosimetrist check the dose in relation to the organs and tumor at risk.
Once the course of treatment has been approved by the radiation oncologist, the dosimetrist prepares the treatment plan and makes sure it will work as planned. The dosimetrist works closely with the radiation therapist when administering the treatment plan. In addition, dosimetrists may help medical physicists in quality assurance procedures, train dosimetry students and work on research teams to help improve the efficacy of radiation therapies.
Dosimetrist job expectations
The duties and responsibilities of dosimetrists include:
Practicing radiation protection techniques to reduce radiation exposure not only to patients but also to staff and visitors
Supervising, performing or assisting in simulations and tumor localization using a range of imaging devices, such as PET, MRI and CT
Planning, fabricating and implementing compensation custom shields, wedges, filters and other beam modifying devices
Supervising or assisting in the development, production and application of casts, molds and other immobilization devices
Explaining the treatment plan to radiation therapy technologist and other members of the radiation oncology team
Assisting in brachytherapy procedures by conducting dose calculations and creating a treatment plan
Maintaining accurate documentation in a patient's electronic medical record
Providing assistance and technical support to the radiation oncology team to ensure proper care in the use and maintenance of supplies and equipment
Promoting continuous improvement of environmental practices and workplace safety
Average salary for dosimetrists
The salary for dosimetrists varies widely, depending on factors like experience, geographical location and employer. In the United States, medical dosimetrists earn an average salary of $116,695 per year.
Some salaries range from $41,000 to $197,000. For the most up-to-date information from Indeed, click on the salary link above.
Dosimetrists working in government and VS hospitals earn more than those working in private and nonprofit hospitals, doctors' offices and clinics and educational institutions. Also, dosimetrists who have been practicing six to 20 years usually earn more than those with three to five years of experience.
Successful dosimetrists need to have a deep understanding of medical physics and radiation oncology, drawing from math, physics and biology to form integrated solutions. Aside from a bachelor's degree and a state license, employers look for medical dosimetrists who demonstrate the following skills:
Knowledge of clinical oncology: To create treatment plans for patients, dosimetrists must be good in radiation therapy and clinical oncology. They should be capable of analyzing test results as well as understanding the body mechanisms behind a patient's reaction to radiation therapy.
Mathematical skills: Complex computations are important to radiation treatment, which requires accurate figures for dosage, equipment angles and exposure time. Dosimetrists also need mathematical skills for generating and interpreting three-dimensional visualizations.
Teamwork: Dosimetrists must be able to work harmoniously with the staff members, including medical physicists, radiation therapists and physicians. To have a smooth implementation of treatment plans, dosimetrists must communicate well and execute details accurately.
Problem-solving skills: When developing treatment plans for patients, dosimetrists consider a lot of factors and examine risks to determine the most effective method. They must also be able to modify their strategy in the case of unpredictable results.
Listening and communication skills: It's also important for dosimetrists to have excellent listening and communication skills. Dosimetrists must first listen carefully to the physician and radiation oncologist to understand treatment goals, accurately record the treatment plan and then explain it to the radiation therapist responsible for the implementation of the treatment plan.
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Medical dosimetrists typically work a normal 40-hour week in a hospital, cancer treatment center or physician's office. Because radiation therapy procedures are typically planned in advance, dosimetrists keep a regular work schedule. However, they are on their feet for long periods and they may need to turn or lift disabled patients.
Because they often work with radiation and radioactive equipment, dosimetrists must follow safety procedures to make sure that they are not exposed to a harmful amount of radiation. These safety procedures typically require dosimetrists to stay in a different room while the patient undergoes radiation treatment.
How to become a dosimetrist
Here are the steps to follow if you're interested in becoming a dosimetrist:
1. Earn a high school diploma
Aspiring medical dosimetrists must first obtain a high school diploma or GED certificate to enroll in a higher education program. If it's available in your school, you can take a vocational course in nursing to acquire some foundational knowledge of patient care. Physics, biology and math courses will prove to be useful as well.
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2. Obtain a bachelor's degree
Dosimetrists must have a Bachelor's Degree in Medical Dosimetry or a related field. Many employers may also require a master's degree. A Bachelor's Degree in Medical Dosimetry usually takes four to five years to complete, while a master's degree can take an additional two to three years. Most dosimetry programs include courses in radiation therapy physics, radiation oncology, medical imaging and cross-sectional anatomy. These programs also include math and science courses to prepare you to calculate dosage.
You should look for dosimetrist degree programs accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) to be eligible to take the board exam. The JRCERT is the only agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education for the accreditation of traditional and distance delivery educational programs in medical dosimetry, magnetic resonance, radiation therapy and radiography.
3. Complete a training program
Once you have obtained a bachelor's degree, you need to complete a medical dosimetry training program accredited by the JRCERT. Training programs for dosimetrists include courses such as human anatomy, brachytherapy dosimetry, clinical radiation oncology and radiation and cancer biology. These programs also include clinical practicums, which allow you to get hands-on experience with patients in a real radiology oncology department.
4. Obtain certifications
Some of the nationally recognized certifications for medical dosimetrists include the following:
Certified Medical Dosimetrist: Offered by the Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board (MDCB), this certification signifies that you have a broad-based knowledge in dosimetry. To obtain this certification, you must have a bachelor's degree and be a graduate of a medical dosimetry JRCERT-accredited program of at least 12 months. You must also pass a multiple-choice examination. All candidates for the examination will be subject to a three-attempt rule. If you fail the exam on the third attempt, you will not be eligible to take the exam for two calendar years. A withdrawal or "no show" for any examination will not be counted as an attempt.
American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT) certification: Offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, this certification recognizes individuals who are qualified to perform the role of a medical dosimetrist. Every state has its own medical dosimetrist licensing regulations. Most will require ARRT licensing, but you should check the requirements for the state you want to practice in. To earn ARRT certification, you need to complete an educational, ethical and examination component.
5. Earn continuing education credits
The Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board (MDCB) requires certified medical dosimetrists to renew their credentials every year and earn a minimum of 50 continuing education credits every five years. Some options to earn these credits include:
Taking college courses relevant to the practice of medical dosimetry
Taking pre-approved dosimetry-related equipment applications training courses
Completion of directed readings
Item writing for the MDCB exam
Taking lectures, seminars or webinars that are pre-approved by the MDCB
6. Find a job and gain experience
You can find employment in the industry with jobs at radiation centers, hospitals and other health care facilities. Once you have gained some experience in the field, you can advance to an administrative position. Positions like chief radiation therapist, dosimetry or radiation department manager and chief medical dosimetrist are all administrative roles to which you may advance as a medical dosimetrist. Another potential avenue for advancement is hospital administration.
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If you're considering a career as a dosimetrist, you may find it worthwhile to include related job titles in your search. Here's a list of 10 jobs similar to a dosimetrist: