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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

My Responsibilities

• Positioning the patient for radiation treatment
• Operating the Linear Accelerator, the equipment that is used to deliver the radiation
• Preparing the patient’s radiation therapy chart
• Maintaining daily records of treatment
• Participating in quality assurance reviews of all the patients

What I like/best least about my work…

What I like best about my work is patient contact. I often say that it’s rare to have a profession where you can hug your patients. I truly think we make the radiation oncology process a lot easier and less complicated for patients and their families. Radiation therapists, as well as the entire department, are vital in making a very difficult situation much easier. We allay fears by educating the patients and by providing support for him/her and the family. I find that this is the most rewarding aspect of the profession.

What I like least about my work can be related to the answer I give to people who ask, “Is your job depressing?” I often tell people that I wish there were a cure for cancer and that a radiation therapy profession did not need to exist. I would gladly find another job if a cure was found. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I realize that if one has to fight cancer, it’s best to make the situation as tolerable as possible. Many of our patients are upset when the treatment ends, as they are used to seeing the department members on a daily basis. We become like family and they are quick to remind us that all things considered, we did make an unpleasant situation very pleasant.

My career goals are…

My career goals are to become more involved in protocol writing, perhaps becoming a principal investigator (PI) on a protocol. A protocol is a study plan on which all clinical trials are based. The protocol is carefully designed by a PI to safeguard the health of participants and answer specific research questions. Since my time at the NCI, I have been an associate investigator (AI) for several protocols. While I am very proud of my achievements, other goals and opportunities exist. Research as a radiation therapist is a challenging new frontier. It gives us the opportunity to use other skills so that we are able to work closely with other disciplines. Our input is valued and important.

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