Radiologic technologists and radiation therapists, as their job titles imply, both work with radiation equipment. They use X-rays in different ways, however, radiologic technologists perform imaging studies that are used for diagnosis, while radiation therapists treat patients who have cancer. Overall, however, the two occupations are more similar than different.
Education, Licensing and Certification
Many educational programs offer a certificate in radiologic technology or radiation therapy, but most employers prefer to hire techs with at least an associate degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Typical courses in both programs include anatomy and physics, although radiologic techs study image evaluation and radiation therapists study computer science. Radiation therapists may be required to have a bachelor’s degree by some employers or in some states. Each state has its own rules about educational requirements for radiologic techs and radiation therapists, but most require a license for both occupations. Those states that do require licensure typically also require certification.
The equipment used for diagnostic imaging is different than that used for radiation therapy, but radiologic technologists and radiation therapists must know how to operate and troubleshoot the machines, set them correctly, and protect both the patients and themselves from excess radiation. Both prepare patients for imaging or treatments and keep records of their activities. Physicians give the instructions for both imaging studies and radiation therapy, and the radiologic tech or radiation therapist must follow instructions carefully.
Skills, Abilities and Specializations
Radiologic techs and radiation therapists need similar skills and abilities, according to the BLS. These include technical and interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and knowledge of science and mathematics. Both need physical stamina, spend much of the day on their feet, and may be expected to help position or move patients. Radiologic techs may specialize or become certified in various areas of imaging technology, such as mammograms, CT scans or MRIs. Some techs hold multiple specialty certifications.
Work Settings and Conditions
Radiologic techs are more numerous than radiation therapists. Both typically work in hospitals, but radiologic techs may also work in physicians’ offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories and outpatient care centers, while radiation therapists may also work in cancer centers. Radiologic techs are more likely to work evening or night shifts, weekends, and holidays or to take calls. Although both occupations are expected to experience job growth between 2014 and 2024, radiologic tech employment is expected to grow at 9 percent, compared to 14 percent for radiation therapists, reports the BLS.
Weighing the Options
When it comes to choosing between the two professions, radiologic techs have more opportunity to specialize, and there will be more job opportunities for this occupation. Those who prefer regular shifts or working as a member of a therapy team may prefer radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also an occupation that offers a chance to build relationships with patients, many of whom need multiple treatments. Salaries may also affect the decision, as radiologic techs earned a median annual salary of $57,450 in 2016, while radiation therapists earned $80,160, according to the BLS.