This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Radiation therapists are part of a team that uses radiation equipment to treat diseases, mostly cancers, in patients.
Radiation therapists usually earn
$51K-$68K per year
Senior radiation therapists with extra responsibilities can earn
$75K-$98K per year
Source: Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) and District Health Boards.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Medical Radiation Technologists Board.
Pay varies for radiation therapists depending on experience, expertise and management responsibilities.
- Qualified radiation therapists start on about $51,000 a year.
- Those with two to five years' experience earn about $57,000 to $68,000.
- Radiation therapists with extra responsibilites or particular clinical expertise earn about $75,000 to $89,000.
- Radiation therapists with management responsibilities can earn up to $98,000.
Source: Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) and District Health Boards, 'Radiation Therapists' Collective Agreement', April 2012 to December 2014.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Radiation therapists may do some or all of the following:
- work with radiation oncologists (cancer specialists) to plan and deliver treatment
- take x-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans and patients' measurements, to help to plan radiation treatment
- use computers to work out the amount and length of radiation treatment to give
- make immobilisation devices, such as masks, to keep the body still during treatment
- prepare patients and equipment for treatment
- deliver radiation treatment using high energy x-ray machines
- educate the public and patients about radiation therapy and its side effects.
Skills and knowledge
Radiation therapists need to have knowledge of:
- radiation treatment methods and radiation equipment
- radiation physics and how radiation affects the body
- anatomy, physiology and pathology
- basic nursing techniques.
- usually work regular hours and may also work weekends and be on call
- work in oncology departments at public and private hospitals.
What's the job really like?
Michele Gatfield - Radiation Therapist
It's all about the patients
"In the beginning seeing people having treatment was one of the hardest things to deal with. But I realised it's no good if I'm a mess; it's not going to help – it can't be about you.
"You're meeting new people every week. Some people you see during their long course of radiation therapy and you form bonds with them. You learn their stories."
Perfectionism is vital in this role
"We're perfectionists. It's really important to have the patient set in the correct position, because once you give a dose of radiation you can never take it back. We treat the tumour while avoiding as much normal tissue as possible.
"But we are protected – the treatment rooms have very thick walls to shield us. It's likely that you get more radiation from flying or watching TV than working as a radiation therapist."
Variety of working styles
"We have to adapt to each environment we work in, and to the different techniques that doctors have for treating cancer. It's challenging, but that's what keeps you on your toes and makes you a better radiation therapist."
Becoming a radiation therapist - 3.57mins (Video courtesy University of Otago)
To become a radiation therapist you need:
- a Bachelor of Radiation Therapy, or another qualification recognised by the Medical Radiation Technologists Board
- to be registered with the Medical Radiation Technologists Board.
The Bachelor of Radiation Therapy is only available from the University of Otago's Wellington campus, and there are only 30 places on the course each year. However, you can increase your chances of being accepted on the course by:
- having strong NCEA Level 3 results, or at least one year's university study in science and psychology
- showing you have an interest in, and knowledge of, radiation therapy
- having experience working in a hospital.
- University of Otago Wellington website - read more about the Bachelor of Radiation Therapy
- New Zealand Medical Radiation Technologists Board website - information on registration
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter training.
You must have the following NCEA Level 3 subjects:
- English or a language-rich subject, such as classics, geography, history, art history, te reo Māori or te reo rangatira
- maths (with statistics or calculus)
- biology or physics.
Radiation therapists should be:
- understanding, patient and empathetic
- accurate and careful, with an eye for detail
- able to work well under pressure
- excellent communicators
- good at planning and organising
- good at research
- good at problem-solving.
Useful experience for radiation therapists includes:
- any work involving helping or caring for people
- work in hospitals
- experience with organisations that work with people who have cancer, for example CanTeen or the Cancer Society.
Find out more about training
- NZ Medical Radiation Technologists Board (MRTB)
- (04) 801 6250 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.mrtboard.org.nz
- University of Otago Wellington: Department of Radiation Therapy
- (04) 385 5583 - email@example.com - www.otago.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for radiation therapists is reasonable because:
- only about 30 radiation therapy students a year are accepted for training
- many radiation therapists leave New Zealand to get experience overseas
- about 10,000 New Zealanders need radiation therapy for cancer each year, and as the population grows and ages, the number of people needing treatment will increase.
Most radiation therapists work for public hospitals
Most radiation therapists work in the oncology (cancer) departments of the six public hospitals offering radiation treatment in:
- Palmerston North
Others work at the three private cancer treatment centres in Auckland, Tauranga and Christchurch.
- Coleman, K, director and head of radiation therapy department, University of Otago – Wellington, Careers New Zealand interview, October 2014.
Progression and specialisations
Radiation therapists can progress into management roles or teach in a hospital or university. Many radiation therapists work in hospitals overseas to gain further experience.
Radiation therapists may also move into roles working in sales and marketing of radiation equipment and cancer drugs, or developing new radiation technology.
Radiation therapists can specialise in:
- treatment planning
- CT scanning
- treatment delivery
- clinical education and research.
Last updated 4 June 2015