This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Radiation therapists are part of a specialised team that uses radiation to treat diseases, mostly cancers, in patients.
Radiation therapists usually earn
$51K-$80K per year
Radiation therapists with extra responsibilities can earn
$83K-$107K per year
Source: NZIMRT and APEX and DHB Collective Agreement, 2017.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Medical Radiation Technologists Board, 2017.
Pay for radiation therapists varies depending on experience and responsibilities.
- Radiation therapists usually start on about $51,000 a year.
- With two to five years' experience they can earn about $59,000 to $80,000.
- Radiation therapists with extra responsibilities or particular clinical expertise can earn between $83,000 and $107,000.
Source: New Zealand Institute of Medical Radiation Technology, 2017; and 'APEX and District Health Boards Medical Radiation Technologists Collective Agreement to 2019', 2017.
(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
- use computed tomography (CT) scans, computer programmes and clinical information to plan radiation treatment
- make immobilisation devices, such as masks, to help patients lie still during treatment
- build rapport and communicate with patients during treatment
- deliver radiation treatment using high energy x-ray machines (linear accelerators)
- educate people 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
- how to make patients comfortable.
- 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?
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 - what is it really like? - 3.57mins (Video courtesy University of Otago)
Billie: The thing is that we're looking out for study in the academic is anatomy and physiology, the study of radiation therapy and that's including physics, the cell types, how we actually apply the radiation and then some of the specific things around radiation therapy planning, so some of the real aspects of the job you will also do.
Katrina Le Roy: So when you think about university you think that you sort of have a lecture sort of like four a day maybe four hours while at Wellington that's sort of like nine to four.
Tess Maitland: When I started studying it was a bit of ashock to the system because I was a school leaver and most of the class is coming from health science or other studies but it was really good in the sense that everything that we were learning was relevant to what we were going to be doing.
Katrina: You get to spend two weeks on clinical placement. It's probably one of the few professions that you have clinical within your first year. So it's really good for like right from the onset to have contact with the patient in sort of like seeing what it is you're going to do in your profession.
Billie: In the clinic the students will always rotate around all of the areas that we work in so they'll be rostered into the CT area and into our planning department where we design the best way to deliver the treatment, and then into the actual treatment machines as well.
Tess: You've gotta be an empathetic person but also not let things bring you down.
Katrina: So you're dealing with patients who do have cancer; they're coming to you for treatment. They sort of come to you and they're quite vibrant so that you're smiling, happy and you meet them with a smile and you start to like build a really good rapport with them.
Tess: It's such a rewarding job most people when I can't tell them about what I'm doing they're like that must be so sad but until you're actually in here and actually see how much of like a happy environment and it actually is it's something special and a lot of people don't really get to experience it.
Billie: You also need to have an interest in science and the technology, the technology is always changing, it's a very exciting area, so it's those mixture of the two the; caring and empathy for the patient as well as the technology.
Katrina: You need to have really good team skills. You need to have good problem-solving skills so you need to be able to sort of identify what the issue is and what it actually needs to take to resolve it.
Tess: When I graduate I'd like to work in New Zealand for a couple of years. I think the New Zealand medical standards are so high so it's be really good to get some experience here for a couple of years and then look to travel.
Tim Kerrisk: I've been working for just on a year now. Everything becomes a lot more ingrained you don't have to think about stuff in the same way you do as a student, but it's actually really rewarding working with people. seeing them for up to 40 days in a row, so in that sense it's really rewarding getting to know them.
Billie: It's one of the great things about our qualification is that we can work anywhere overseas. New Zealand radiation therapists are highly sought after around the world. We have a highly regarded degree, and the door is open to most countries around the world to work.
To become a radiation therapist you need to have a Bachelor of Radiation Therapy, or another qualification recognised by the Medical Radiation Technologists Board
You also need 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 about 30 places on the course each year. You can increase your chances of being accepted on to the course by:
- having strong NCEA Level 3 results, or at least one year's university study in science and psychology
- showing an interest in, and knowledge of, radiation therapy.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include biology, English, maths and physics.
Radiation therapists should be:
- understanding and empathetic
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to work well under pressure
- safety conscious
- excellent communicators
- good at planning and organising
- interested in 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.
Radiation therapists need to be registered with the New Zealand Medical Radiation Technologists Board and have a current Annual Practising Certficate.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand 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 5475 - email@example.com - www.otago.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting work as a radiation therapist are average because:
- only around 30 radiation therapy students a year are accepted for training
- many radiation therapists leave New Zealand to get experience overseas
- an ageing population increases demand for more health checks and scans for age-related diseases
Radiation therapist appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled radiation therapists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Most radiation therapists work for public hospitals
Most radiation therapists work in hospital oncology (cancer) departments in:
- Palmerston North
Radiation therapists may also work in private cancer treatment centres in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.
- Coleman, K, director and head of radiation therapy department, University of Otago – Wellington, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2017.
- Health Workforce New Zealand, 'Health of the Health Workforce 2015', February 2016, (www.moh.govt.nz).
- The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, Faculty of Radiation Oncology, 'The Radiation Oncology Workforce in New Zealand: Projecting Supply and Demand 2012-2022', 21 February 2013, (www.ranzcr.edu.au).
Progression and specialisations
Radiation therapists can progress into management roles or teach in a hospital or university.
Radiation therapists may also move into roles in research, 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 5 May 2017