Therapeutic radiographers use the latest technology in radiotherapy to treat cancerous or diseased tissue
Therapeutic radiographers use specific amounts of ionising radiation to treat patients, mainly those with cancer and tumours. Radiotherapy, as it known, can also be used to treat non-cancerous tumours and other conditions such as thyroid disease. There are two different types of radiographers – therapeutic and diagnostic, and it's important to know the difference between the two before you decide which one you want to become.
Therapeutic radiographers are trained to use very accurate amounts of radiation to eradicate the diseased tissue while minimising damage to the healthy tissue surrounding the area. A therapeutic radiographer will be part of the oncology team working with doctors, nurses, medical physicists and engineers and therefore can be involved in a patient's treatment from the initial referral, through to planning and administering treatment, and post-treatment follow-up.
Most therapeutic radiographers work in hospitals for the NHS but they can also work in private hospitals and clinics.
Typical responsibilities of the job include:
- working closely with other members of the oncology team to plan treatment of cancerous tumours or abnormal tissue
- explaining treatment to patients and answering any questions to help them make informed decisions about their treatment
- developing a relationship with patients to gain their trust
- assessing and monitoring patients through treatment and follow-up
- administering radiotherapy treatment
- using knowledge and skill to operate technical equipment with confidence
- maintaining treatment records and writing reports
- keeping up to date on the latest treatment methods and innovations in radiotherapy equipment.
A therapeutic radiographer working in the NHS would usually work a typical week of 37.5 hours but this will usually include weekends, evenings and shift work.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for therapeutic radiographers
- a strong interest and ability in science, specifically biology, anatomy, physiology and physics
- excellent communication skills
- the ability to develop relationships with frightened, fragile and vulnerable patients.
- the ability to adopt an appropriate manner with patients who may be very ill
- emotional stability and strength to cope with patients who may be terminally ill
- IT and technical skills
- good teamworking skills
- the ability to adapt to changes and new techniques in the industry
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of therapeutic radiographers
The majority of jobs for therapeutic radiographers are within the NHS but you might also find jobs in:
- Private hospitals
- Research establishments
Qualifications and training required
To practise as a therapeutic radiographer, you will need a degree in therapeutic radiotherapy that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) http://www.hcpc-uk.co.uk. If you have a relevant first degree, there are also some postgraduate programmes that take two years. You can look at the HCPC website for a list of approved courses http://www.hcpc-uk.org/education/programmes/register/
To get onto a therapeutic radiography degree course you will need at least five GCSEs (grades A-C), including English language, maths and science and two or three A levels, including physics, chemistry or biology/human biology.
You might also be able to get onto a degree course with the following qualifications:
- BTEC, HND or HNC which includes science
- relevant NVQ
- science-based access course
- equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications
However, its crucial to check each university's requirements carefully as it can vary. Gaining some work experience with a registered radiographer would be highly recommended and prove valuable in applying for courses. Many universities require you to have visited an imaging or radiotherapy department before they will accept you onto the programme. Some radiotherapy hospital departments hold open days, which could provide a useful introduction to this area of work and give you a feel for the working environment.
If you don't have the standard entry qualifications, some universities will look at your educational achievements and experience to see if they can offer you a place. There is also the option of taking an access course for adult learners who do not have the traditional qualifications, and if you take this route, science-based access courses are often preferable to healthcare ones. For more information on access courses in England and Wales, you can visit the Access to Higher Education website http://www.accesstohe.ac.uk/Pages/Default.aspx, or in Scotland, the Scottish Wider Access Programme website http://www.scottishwideraccess.org/national-about-swap-what-courses-are-....
Some radiographers access the profession via the assistant practitioner route and then taking a course of study towards the Foundation Degree in Radiography or an equivalent qualification.
Once qualified, therapeutic radiographers usually join the Society of Radiographers (SoR) http://www.sor.org/, and registered therapeutic radiographers have to keep their skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD), which the SoR provides.
Therapeutic radiographers could choose to specialise in a particular type of treatment such as ionising or non-ionising radiation, for example the new area of proton beam therapy. They could also undertake further training to become a sonographer. Other paths of career development for a therapeutic radiographer involve specialising in treating particular types of cancer or in working with a particular age of people, for example children. Therapeutic radiographers also sometimes choose to go into research or teaching.
There are managerial posts within the NHS and it's possible to progress eventually into a management role, either within radiography services or general management.