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How to Become a Medical Dosimetrist
Radiation therapy is used in the treatment of malignant cancers. A medical dosimetrist is part of the radiation team, ensuring that the right amount of lethal radiation hits the cancer cells without damaging healthy organs and tissues. The average annual salary for medical dosimetry jobs range from $105,037 to $125,040.
After a physician prescribes radiation for a tumor, the medical dosimetrist creates a plan to deliver the prescribed dose. Using a computer with 3-D imaging software, the dosimetrist contours normal organs from a CT scan, a PET/CT scan or an MRI to determine the exact location of the tumor. The dosage and the arrangement of radiation beams are then calculated, to be reviewed by the radiation oncologist, who is the medical doctor specializing in cancer treatment by radiation. After the doctor's approval, the dosimetrist finalizes the treatment plan and will make sure that it is executed as designated.
Becoming a dosimetrist requires completion of a 12- month medical dosimetry certification program from an accredited institution. Admissions to schools are competitive; most require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in physical science. Applicants are usually required to complete an observation of medical dosimetry to get an understanding of what's involved in the profession.
There is no CMD degree, but instead a Certified Medical Dosimetrist (CMD) designation earned by certification exam through the Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board (MDCB). There was previous an option for certification based on clinical experience, but as of 2017, only graduates from 12-month medical dosimetry certification programs who also have a bachelor's degree are eligible to take the exam.
Along with formal education requirements, dosimetrists must have excellent communication skills. They must listen to the radiation oncologist to understand treatment goals. They must accurately document the treatment plan and communicate exactly what is needed to the radiation therapist who will actually administer the dosage. Dosimetrists must have be good at problem-solving and have excellent computer, math and technical skills.
Dosimetrists work in hospitals, medical centers and cancer treatment centers. They are part of a medical team that includes physicians, medical physicists, oncology nurses and radiation therapists.
Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks data and makes predictions for all civilian occupations. The BLS includes medical dosimetrists under the category of radiation therapists, and projects a job growth rate of 13 percent through 2026, a rate faster than average, compared to all other jobs. Advances in radiation therapy, as well as the aging of the general population, will likely contribute to the increase in medical dosimetry jobs.
The average salary for a dosimetrist is $114,992, as of October 2018. Factors such as geographic location, employer, education, experience and additional skills account for salary variations.
- A radiation treatment team usually includes a licensed and certified radiation oncologist who leads and directs the team, a medical physicist, radiotherapy technologists, and of course the medical dosimetrist. He or she plays his most important role in brachytherapy procedures. Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive material directly inside a cancer patient's body.
- Mark Reid generates radiation treatment plans via computer and reviews patient cases with radiation oncologists, oncology nurses, medical physicists and radiation therapists. A couple of times a week, he goes with patients for CT diagnostic scans. The results of the scans will give him the data he needs for his calculations and dose distributions. Frequent patient contact is not unusual, and Reid says a dosimetrist "can't be just a physics nerd. You need some sensibilities about what is going on with patients. You use a lot of different skills to do your job."
Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for eHow.com, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.