Dosimetrist Career Overview

May 11, 2023
Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

What is a Dosimetrist?

A Dosimetrist is a crucial member of the radiation oncology team, responsible for ensuring accurate radiation doses are given to patients undergoing radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that employs radiation to kill cancer cells. X-rays utilize the same type of radiation, but at a lower dose. 

The Dosimetrist collaborates with other healthcare providers to provide oversight for treatment procedures using external beam radiation therapy or internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy. Both forms of radiation therapy can cause harm to healthy tissues and organs, so administering the correct dose is a critical factor. 

The Dosimetrist's role involves determining the appropriate radiation dose and formulating a treatment plan that maximizes the radiation dose to cancerous cells, while minimizing the radiation dose to healthy tissue. Radiation kills cancer cells by damaging their DNA. However, cell death does not occur immediately, and it can take several weeks of treatment before enough DNA damage occurs for cancer cells to die.

Interested in dosimetry? Check out some of our allied health job listings to see what’s available.

What Does a Dosimetrist Do?

Often a clinical dosimetrist will specialize in one of the two types of radiation. External beam radiation includes photon therapy and proton therapy, which is delivered to the tumor from outside the body. Brachytherapy places a radioactive source inside the body, directly next to the tumor. This placement may be permanent or temporary. 

The radiation oncologist prescribes the dose and type of radiation to be delivered to the patient and the dosimetrist is responsible for the application and administration of the treatment. Some of those responsibilities include:

  • Using 3D imaging software in conjunction with a CT scan to plan treatment
  • Image fusion using CT, MRI, or PET/CT to identify the exact position of the tumor
  • 3D intensity modulated therapy plan
  • Identifying how the radiation beams will be applied to the tumor or cancer cells to minimize damage to normal tissue
  • Preparation of radiation dose according to the radiation oncologist’s instructions
  • Design, generation, and measuring of radiation doses
  • Collaborating with the radiation therapist to administer the treatment
  • Oversight of the radiation therapy process
  • Working closely with the medical physicist to ensure quality assurance procedures are followed
  • Working on research teams to improve radiation therapies

What Skills Does a Dosimetrist Need?

A dosimetrist is responsible for the application of radiation, which when administered inappropriately, can have devastating effects. A dosimetrist must have the following core skills:

  • Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, radiation safety, radiation physics, and clinical oncology
  • Expertise in the technical aspects needed to develop optimal treatment plans, including the use of imaging technology to track dosing and assess treatment modification
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills to work with patients, families, and the healthcare team
  • High level of problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Ability to work independently and interpret treatment plans
  • Strong math skills, including trigonometry and introductory calculus
  • Ability to supervise or assist in the application of mobilization devices
  • Communication skills to explain treatment plans to radiation therapy technologists, patients, and families
  • Integrity to promote continuous improvement of workplace safety practices

Work Settings For Dosimetrists

Dosimetrists are usually employed by hospitals that provide radiation therapy treatment to cancer patients or by cancer treatment centers. They typically work a 40-hour work week, but opportunities exist for part-time employment. 

They may also find work at research laboratories or working with radiological oncology vendors in the application or sales department. Because their work places them in proximity to radioactive materials, dosimetrists must diligently practice proper safety precautions. 

Common Cases Dosimetrists Encounter

Dosimetrists encounter a variety of cases related to cancer treatment. These cases may involve patients undergoing radiation therapy for different types of cancer. Additionally, patients who have undergone long-term cancer treatment may also present with a range of medical issues such as surgical complications, heart conditions, lung problems, endocrine system challenges, or neurological conditions.

In some instances, long-term cancer treatment may lead to cognitive issues such as learning and memory problems, which can pose a challenge for dosimetrists administering radiation therapy. As part of the radiation oncology team, the dosimetrist plays a critical role in determining the appropriate radiation dose and treatment plan that maximizes the radiation dose to cancerous cells while minimizing harm to healthy tissue. With their specialized knowledge, dosimetrists work to ensure that patients receive safe and effective radiation therapy.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications

To become a dosimetrist, proper education and certifications enable dosimetrists to excel in their careers and provide safe and effective radiation therapy for cancer patients. Listed below are specific education requirements and helpful certifications that aspiring professionals should consider:

  • High school education or GED certificate
  • Focus on physics, biology, physiology, and math can be useful
  • Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
  • Focus on physics, biology, physiology, and math can be useful
  • Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
  • Acceptance into an accredited medical dosimetry program (certificate or master's program). The Program duration is typically 12 to 24 months and is a combination of classroom study and clinical practice

It is essential to note that individual states regulate the licensing of medical dosimetrists, and the requirements may vary. While most states require ARRT licensing, candidates must check the requirements for the state where they plan to practice. 

How to Become a Dosimetrist

Full-time bachelor students can complete their college education in four years. Part-time study is also an option for students who need to work, but may prolong the timeline to graduation. After getting a bachelor’s degree, a professional must enroll in an accredited medical dosimetry program, which can be completed in 12 to 24 months, depending on the program. 

It is crucial that students attend an accredited college or university to ensure their education meets national standards. Students who attend an unaccredited college or university may not qualify for federal aid and the college credits often do not transfer to another accredited school.

How to Advance Your Career as a Dosimetrist

There are several ways to demonstrate your leadership skills to help open the door to future opportunities. For example, dosimetrists can volunteer to serve on committees within the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists (AAMD) organization. There, you can demonstrate your strengths and assist in the growth and development of the profession. 

The AAMD encourages dosimetrists to present at national and regional meetings, or to submit for poster presentations. Continuing education can raise the potential of stepping into a leadership role as a manager or lead dosimetrist within an organization. The AAMD maintains a list of Master’s level programs that are accredited by JRCERT, including Southern University Carbondale, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, University of Wisconsin Lacrosse, and the Radiological Technologies University in South Bend, Indiana.

Average Salary For Dosimetrists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for a dosimetrist is $124,750 and the median hourly wage is $61.19. The vast majority of medical dosimetrists are employed in general medical and surgical hospitals. 

The states with the highest employment include Texas, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The top-paying states are California, Washington, New York, and Georgia. The average annual wage in California is $160,760. It is crucial to note that California ranks in the top 5 states with the highest cost of living index.

The Pros of Being a Dosimetrist & Other Considerations

There are many pros that go along with becoming a medical dosimetrist. To name a few:

  • You’ll play a vital role on the radiation oncology team
  • It’s a high growth field with above-average salary potential
  • There are opportunities to participate in research
  • There are few evening, weekend, or on-call hours required
  • You’ll generally be working within a positive work environment
  • You have the opportunity to work in various settings: clinical, research, teaching, with vendors, or as a locum tenens

There are some other things to consider that are inherent to this role:

  • Advanced math skills are necessary
  • There is a risk of radiation exposure involved
  • You’ll need to to stay updated with the latest technological developments

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Unleash Your Potential as a Dosimetrist

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