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Career Profile: Radiation Therapist

Career Profile: Radiation Therapist

Karen Lynne Ullman, Radiation Therapist, Radiologic Technologists – Therapy (R.T.T.), Research Radiation Therapist, Radiation Oncology Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

National Institutes of Health: Office of Science Education

I chose this career because…

I chose to become a Radiation Therapist because after working for a year in the financial world, it was time for a career change. I was always interested in a medical career as both my parents are involved in medicine. My mother is a research nurse and my father is an anesthesiologist, so I was familiar with the medical world.

Growing up in Newport News, Virginia, I remember my family discussing medical topics around the dinner table. Glancing at my parents’ medical textbooks piqued my interest at a very early age. In high school, I enjoyed all of my classes (English, Science, Math, Advanced Placement History) and was ready to pursue a liberal arts college education. I also knew that I wanted a smaller college and one that would allow me to travel and study abroad. I chose to attend Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Choosing a Major for My Undergraduate Education
Like so many college students, I contemplated many majors (psychology, biology, politics) when I started college, but finally decided on politics. Though I enjoyed a human heredity biology class my freshman year, and considered a career in science, it was not the path I originally pursued. I graduated with a major in politics and a minor in economics. I had a wonderful junior year in England. I spent the entire year abroad studying subjects that pertained to my major and also many classes on the history and culture of Great Britain including art history and literature. It was truly a year I will never forget. I chose to major in politics, but later in life, I think that radiation therapy sort of chose me.

Radiation Therapy Education and Clinical Internship

I applied to the radiation therapy program at Labouré College and within 2 weeks I was saying goodbye to my friends at Putnam Investments and starting a new chapter in my life. During my 2 years of training, including both summers, I learned that the primary responsibilities of a radiation therapist included implementing treatment programs prescribed by a radiation oncologist, and assisting in the planning of treatment with the medical dosimetrist and the radiation physicist. The responsibilities required highly specialized technical skills, as well as, highly developed personal skills for interacting effectively with other members of the oncology treatment team, the patients and their families. I developed skills through an intensive didactic curriculum along with a clinical internship supervised by registered radiation therapists. Internship training was provided at clinical affiliates. After my training was complete, I was eligible to apply for certification through examination by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. I took and passed my exam.

College Education

• Associate in Science, Radiation Therapy Technology, Labouré College, Boston, Massachusetts
• Bachelor of Arts, Politics, Economics Minor, Randolph Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg, Virginia

My typical workday involves…

My typical workday involves working with other radiation therapists to treat cancer patients. Radiation therapists are responsible for scheduling patients. We treat patients every 15 minutes. Radiation therapists also operate the Computer Tomography (CT) scanner that is used to plan the patient’s radiation therapy. The CT scanner allows us to view images of the patient’s tumor(s) and other internal tissues and organs. A patient is usually treated Monday to Friday for 5 to 7 weeks. There are times when the treatment is shorter.

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