If you're interested in science, are a good communicator and can remain calm under pressure, then work as a therapeutic radiographer may be for you

Therapeutic radiographers specialise in the planning and administration of radiotherapy treatment for patients, most of whom have cancer. Using a range of technical equipment, you'll deliver accurate doses of radiation to the tumour to destroy the diseased tissue, while minimising the amount of radiation to surrounding healthy tissue.

As part of the oncology team you'll have regular contact with patients before, during and after their treatment and will play a vital role in helping them cope with the daily physical and psychological demands of having radiotherapy.

Therapeutic radiographers are also known as radiotherapy radiographers or therapy radiographers, although the protected title with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) is therapeutic radiographer.

Responsibilities

You'll need to:

  • plan a course of treatment with clinical oncologists and medical physicists;
  • explain the treatment and the processes used to your patients in order to help them make an informed decision about their choices;
  • administer radiation treatment accurately and safely;
  • operate technical equipment responsibly and confidently;
  • calculate the radiation dosage and map the area to be treated, while minimising the dose given to normal tissue;
  • develop a relationship with your patients and their families and gain their cooperation and trust;
  • explain the management of any possible radiotherapy side effects;
  • observe and assess your patients' responses to treatment, often on a daily basis;
  • carry out post-treatment reviews and follow-up consultations;
  • liaise closely with a range of staff, including clinical oncologists, medical physicists, engineers, doctors and nurses;
  • keep accurate records and produce reports;
  • attend meetings and patient reviews;
  • keep up to date by attending all relevant training on treatment and equipment;
  • supervise and monitor the work of radiography assistants and student radiographers;
  • promote awareness of cancer through providing health advice.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. As a newly qualified radiographer your starting salary is likely to be £21,909 (Band 5), rising up the pay scale to £28,462.
  • As a specialist radiographer you can earn between £26,302 and £35,225 (Band 6).
  • Typical salaries for advanced radiographers are between £31,383 and £41,373 (Band 7), while at consultant level you can earn up to £68,484 (Band 8c).

Additional cost of living payments may be available to those working in London and the South of England. Non-NHS pay rates are usually competitively set and are often negotiated on an individual basis. On-call allowances and overtime payments are paid in addition to the basic salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a 37.5 hour week, which may include evenings, nights and weekends.

Part-time work and job sharing are possible, depending on departmental needs. Career breaks are possible but you must keep up with technical developments during your time out.

What to expect

  • Most therapeutic radiographers are based in radiotherapy departments in NHS hospital trusts or in private hospitals and outpost and outreach clinics.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. There is currently a national shortage of radiographers (although this varies in differing parts of the UK). The recent increase in the number of treatment centres has led to increased flexibility for radiographers looking for work.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is not possible.
  • The job may be physically strenuous as it involves moving and lifting both patients and equipment.
  • You'll need resilience to cope with the demands of dealing with patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions.

Qualifications

To practise as a therapeutic radiographer you must be registered with the HCPC. In order to register, you must successfully complete an HCPC-approved radiography training programme at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. See the HCPC website for a list of approved courses.

The BSc Therapeutic Radiography lasts three years (four years in Scotland) and applications are made to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

If you've already got a degree in a science or health-related subject, you may be eligible for a two (or three) year accelerated postgraduate course leading to an MSc or PgDip in therapeutic radiography. Relevant subjects include:

  • biological sciences;
  • biology;
  • health studies;
  • life and medical sciences;
  • nursing.

Contact individual institutions for entry requirements.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate training consists of a mix of study and clinical placement, approximately 50% of each. Subjects covered include anatomy, physiology, physics, ethics and the practice and science of imaging. All students are subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

All UK approved courses lead to professional qualification, eligibility to apply for registration with the HCPC and membership of the Society of Radiographers.

If you're working in radiography as an assistant practitioner, you may be able to take the Foundation degree in radiography or equivalent while working.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills;
  • emotional resilience to cope with patients who may be nearing the end of their life;
  • empathy and the ability to develop a rapport with your patients and their families;
  • accuracy and attention to detail as you may be working on complex treatments;
  • good team work skills as you'll be working with other members of the oncology team;
  • decision-making skills;
  • confidence to work with technology;
  • flexibility and the ability to adapt to developments in working practices.

Work experience

In order to be accepted on to a degree programme, many universities will expect you to have visited an imaging or radiography department. Contact the radiotherapy service manager at your local hospital and ask if you can spend time work shadowing a qualified therapeutic radiographer.

Previous work with the public, particularly in a health-related role, is also useful.

Employers

Approximately 90% of all radiographers (both therapeutic and diagnostic) in the UK are employed by the NHS. There is currently a national shortage of therapeutic radiographers, which means the likelihood of finding a job is relatively good, particularly if you can be geographically flexible. You may also work in private hospitals and clinics or research establishments, or within education, conducting research and training radiographers.

There are a small number of independent sector radiotherapy service providers in the UK, which provide opportunities for radiographers to work within this sector.

You could also work as an application specialist for an equipment manufacturer, providing training and support for staff when new equipment is introduced in hospital departments.

There is scope to work overseas in hospitals, clinics and education or research establishments in countries such as Australia and Canada.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

As a newly qualified therapeutic radiographer you'll have an initial induction followed by a period of preceptorship. During this time you'll get to know the policies and procedures of the workplace and have the opportunity to reflect on your practice under the clinical supervision of a senior colleague.

Once you've successfully completed preceptorship you must continue to keep up to date with the latest developments in cancer treatment and care and associated technological advancements. You'll continue to have regular clinical supervision throughout your career.

In order to remain registered with the HCPC, you must carry out continuing professional development (CPD). The Society of Radiographers provides CPD support for its members, including courses, seminars, conferences and events, as well as a range of networking opportunities.

It's also possible to take a post-registration postgraduate qualification in areas such as advanced practice radiography or clinical reporting.

Career prospects

Career prospects for therapeutic radiographers are generally good. Once you've gained experience, there are opportunities to take on roles with increased clinical responsibilities in a variety of areas within oncology services. These include:

  • treatment planning;
  • delivery;
  • on-treatment review and support services;
  • supplementary and independent prescribing;
  • palliative care;
  • quality management;
  • teaching and learning;
  • training;
  • clinical research.

Many services have both tumour site and technical specialist roles and a small number of centres have developed community specialist radiographer roles. Radiographers in these specialist roles coordinate and provide high-quality care to patients, as well as being the point of contact and the patient's key worker.

As your career progresses, you may become an advanced and then consultant practitioner, taking on a higher level of clinical responsibility and management of patients. At consultant level you'll contribute to the strategic development of services and undertake education and research.

Radiotherapy service managers are professionally qualified managers and are responsible for the strategic delivery and planning, along with the day-to-day operational management, of radiotherapy services.

You can also be employed in management posts in the NHS, within education or in agencies or charities, looking at issues such as quality assurance or patient care, information and support services. It's possible to undertake further training to become a sonographer.