Therapeutic radiographers must be scientifically minded, good communicators and able to remain calm under pressure

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 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 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

You'll need to:

  • plan a course of treatment with other therapeutic radiographers, 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 treatment
  • calculate the radiation dosage needed
  • administer radiation treatment accurately and safely
  • operate equipment responsibly and confidently
  • develop a professional relationship and 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, clinical oncologists, medical physicists, engineers, doctors 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.

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 £22,128 (Band 5), rising up the pay scale to £28,746. With experience you can move on to Band 6 (£26,565 and £35,577).
  • Typical salaries for advanced practitioner radiographers are between £31,696 and £41,787 (Band 7).
  • At consultant level you can earn up to £69,168 (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

Your core hours are typically 8am to 8pm, across a 37.5-hour working week.

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

What to expect

  • Most therapeutic radiographers are based in radiotherapy departments in NHS hospitals or in private hospitals.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. There is currently a national shortage of therapeutic 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 is physically strenuous as it involves moving and lifting both patients and equipment.
  • You'll be encouraged to develop 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 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. 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, you may be eligible for a two (or three) year accelerated postgraduate course leading to an MSc in therapeutic radiography. Relevant subjects include:

  • biological sciences
  • biology
  • health studies
  • 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.

All students in England and Wales are subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service check. In Scotland, you'll need a criminal records check from Disclosure Scotland. There are various types of disclosure and you may need an enhanced or Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme check. In Northern Ireland, you'll need an enhanced AccessNI 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 radiotherapy as an assistant practitioner, you may be able undertake a foundation degree in Health and Social Care (Radiotherapy) or Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) while working.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • emotional resilience to cope with patients nearing the end of their life
  • the ability to empathise with your patients and families
  • accurate attention to detail as you may be working on complex treatments
  • the ability to work as part of a 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 radiotherapy department. Contact the university's therapeutic radiotherapy admissions tutor or the hospital's radiotherapy department practice educator to arrange time work shadowing a therapeutic radiographer.

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

Employers

Approximately 90% of all radiographers 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 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

Career prospects for therapeutic radiographers are 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:

  • 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.

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.