The health care industry offers a number of appealing career options, providing an opportunity for you to serve others while earning a good living. That's true even if you aren't prepared to spend the next 12 years of your life becoming a physician. For example, you can become a registered nurse or a radiation therapist with as little as two years' education, and enjoy an in-demand career with strong earning potential.
For both registered nurses and radiation therapists, a two-year associate's degree represents the field's entry level, while a four-year bachelor's degree provides greater opportunities for advancement. The curriculum for both RNs and RTs provides a grounding in the humanities and basic sciences, as well as the profession's ethical and regulatory framework. Both spend time in supervised clinical rotations, learning in a hands-on setting. RNs are licensed in all states, and are required to graduate from an accredited program and pass a national certification exam. Radiation therapists are also licensed in most states after graduating from an accredited training program and successfully passing a certification examination administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Most RNs begin their careers as generalists, working wherever they're needed. As a nurse you might perform tests, administer medications, monitor and record patients' vital signs, and educate patients and their families about specific procedures or ongoing lifestyle changes. Over time, you might begin to specialize in an area of care that meets your interests, such as oncology, obstetrics or surgical nursing. Earning certification in one of these areas can improve your prospects of advancement and higher pay. If you choose to earn an advanced degree during your non-working hours, you could advance into a lucrative career as a nurse practitioner, educator, nurse anesthetist or health care administrator.
Radiation therapists work as part of a collaborative team of specialists in cancer treatment. Radiation oncologists and medical physicists plan out a course of treatment for the patient, a dosimetrist calculates the optimal dosages of radiation, and then the radiation therapist applies the specified dosages for precisely the correct length of time. As a radiation therapist you're required to observe stringent safety regulations to ensure minimal risk to the patient's healthy tissues, and to avoid exposing yourself to dangerous levels of radiation. Radiation therapists typically work stable, predictable shifts, and face less workplace stress than many other health care professionals.
Income and Outlook
Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that both RNs and RTs are highly paid, in-demand professionals. The May 2011 Occupational Employment Statistics reported an average income of $69,110 per year for registered nurses, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning up to $44,970 and the top 10 percent earning $96,630 or more. Radiation therapists averaged $79,340, with the bottom 10 percent reporting salaries of up to $51,110 and the top 10 percent earning $112,540 or more. Through 2020, the BLS projects 26 percent job growth for registered nurses and 20 percent for radiation therapists, both well above the national average for all occupations.
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Radiation Therapist
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Registered Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Radiation Therapists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Registered Nurses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Radiation Therapists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Registered Nurses
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