Therapeutic radiographers specialise in the planning, administration and aftercare of radiotherapy treatment for patients, most of whom have cancer

As a therapeutic radiographer, you'll use a range of highly-specialised equipment to deliver accurate doses of radiation to tumours to destroy diseased tissue, while minimising the amount of radiation to surrounding healthy tissue. You may also use radiotherapy to treat other conditions such as some blood disorders and thyroid disease.

As part of the radiotherapy team, you'll have lots of contact with patients and their families. You will care for and support them before, during and after their treatment, and will play a vital role in helping them cope with the daily side effects.

Therapeutic radiographer is a protected title with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Responsibilities

As a therapeutic radiographer, you'll need to:

  • design and plan a course of treatment with other therapeutic radiographers, clinical oncologists, medical physicists and patients
  • explain the treatment and the processes used to your patients in order to help them make an informed decision about their treatment
  • calculate the radiation dosage needed
  • administer radiation treatment accurately and safely
  • operate equipment responsibly and confidently
  • evaluate the results of treatment
  • develop a rapport with your patients and their families to gain their cooperation and trust
  • explain to patients the management of acute and long-term radiotherapy side effects and ensure they're followed up appropriately after treatment
  • liaise closely with a range of staff, including other therapeutic radiographers, doctors, clinical oncologists, medical physicists, engineers and nurses
  • keep accurate, computer-based records
  • attend inter-professional team meetings
  • actively engage with continuing professional development (CPD)
  • support learners in the clinical learning environment
  • promote awareness of cancer through providing health advice.

At a senior level, you may need to:

  • undertake the operational management and continuing development of the radiotherapy service
  • act as an expert practitioner and provide professional and clinical leadership to ensure that treatment is delivered on time and to a high standard
  • manage staff and budgets, including supervision, recruitment, training, appraisal and disciplinary issues
  • participate in mentoring and training development.

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 £25,655 (Band 5), rising up the pay scale to £31,534. With experience you can move on to Band 6 (£32,306 to £39,027).
  • Typical salaries for advanced practitioner radiographers range from £40,057 to £45,839 (Band 7).
  • At consultant level you can earn up to £75,874 (Band 8c).

High-cost area supplements ranging from 5% to 20% are available for those living in inner, outer and the fringe of London. On-call allowances and overtime payments are paid in addition to the basic salary.

Non-NHS pay rates are usually competitively set and are often negotiated on an individual basis.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a 37.5-hour working week, which may include evenings, nights, early mornings and weekends. Services often operate flexible hours working to support their extended day working pattern.

Part-time work and job sharing are possible, depending on departmental needs.

Career breaks are possible. For details, see the HCPC's Returning to practice.

What to expect

  • Most therapeutic radiographers are based in radiotherapy departments in NHS hospitals or in private hospitals. You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary team, consulting with colleagues in other departments.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. There is currently a national shortage of therapeutic radiographers (although this varies in differing parts of the UK), including those working within sonography and mammography. Self-employment or freelance work is not possible.
  • You'll need to be comfortable using advanced technology to treat cancer patients, such as an X-ray machine, CT scanner or a linear accelerator (LINAC) .
  • You must be able to move and manipulate both patients and equipment.
  • You'll be encouraged to develop resilience to cope with supporting 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 therapeutic radiography training programme at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. See the HCPC Register of approved education and training programmes.

The BSc (Hons) Therapeutic Radiography lasts three years full time (four years in Scotland), with a six-year, part-time option available at Birmingham City University. Applications are made via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

If you've already got a degree in a science or health-related subject, typically a 2:1 or above, you may be eligible to apply for an HCPC-approved two-year accelerated postgraduate course in therapeutic radiography.

Relevant subjects include:

  • biological sciences
  • biology
  • health sciences
  • life and medical sciences
  • nursing
  • physics and/or medical physics.

Contact individual universities 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, radiation physics, ethics, the social and psychological aspects of cancer care and the practice and science of imaging.

It may also be possible to take a degree apprenticeship in therapeutic radiography. For more information about apprenticeships, see Become an apprentice.

All students will need to pass a criminal records check and get occupational health clearance.

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

All eligible pre-registration undergraduate and postgraduate therapeutic radiography students studying in England can receive funding support of at least £5,000 per year. You'll also receive an extra £1,000 as therapeutic radiography is a shortage specialism. You don't have to pay it back and are still able to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company. For more information, see Health Careers.

For details of financial support available to students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, see:

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • emotional resilience to cope with patients nearing the end of their life
  • a sensitive and tolerant approach to your patients
  • the ability to empathise with your patients and families
  • observation skills and attention to detail as you may be working on complex treatments and need to make sure you give the correct dose of radiation
  • the ability to work well as part of a multidisciplinary team
  • organisation, planning and time management skills
  • reasoning, analytical and decision-making skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure and to cope with interruptions
  • a creative approach to problem solving to ensure that all options are considered
  • confidence to work with current and new technologies
  • flexibility and the ability to adapt to developments in working practices
  • an understanding of the requirements needed for the safe delivery of treatment
  • self-motivation, along with the ability to motivate others.

Work experience

In order to be accepted on to a degree programme, many universities will expect you to have visited an imaging or radiotherapy department. Contact the university's therapeutic radiotherapy admissions tutor or your local hospital's radiotherapy department practice educator to arrange time work shadowing a therapeutic radiographer. Search the list of NHS Trusts for contact details.

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

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

The majority of radiographers in the UK are employed by the NHS, although there are some opportunities to work in private practice at private centres.

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 CPD. The Society of Radiographers (SoR) 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 radiotherapy. You can also train to become an independent prescriber.

Career prospects

There are various ways you can develop your career as a therapeutic radiographer. 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:

  • radiotherapy treatment planning
  • on-treatment patient review and support services
  • palliative and end of life care
  • working with students and learners as a practice educator
  • clinical research.

There are also opportunities to specialise in particular areas of treatment such as ionising or non-ionising radiation or to work with specific groups of patients, such as children.

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 planning of services and undertake education and research.

You could move into a radiotherapy service management role, with responsibility for the strategic delivery and planning, along with the day-to-day operational management of radiotherapy services, or a general management post in the NHS.

There are also opportunities to work in agencies or charities, looking at issues such as quality assurance or patient care, information and support services. It's also possible to move into a career in research or teaching. For more information, see the career development section of the Society of Radiographers website.

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