Radiation therapy is used to treat malignant cancers by directing an external radiation beam or inserting radioactive seeds or applicators into or near a cancerous tumor. Radiation therapy can help destroy the cancer by killing tumor cells, but it also can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs in the process. Radiation treatment can require one dose or several treatments scheduled over days or weeks.
The medical dosimetrist is a part of the radiation oncology team, which includes a radiation oncologist, medical physicist, radiation therapists and oncology nurses.
Medical dosimetrists ensure that radiation treatment promotes the most lethal radiation dose with the fewest side effects to the patient’s healthy organs.
When a radiation oncologist prescribes radiation to a tumor, a medical dosimetrist creates a plan to deliver the prescribed radiation dose. The medical dosimetrist uses a computer with three-dimensional imaging software to contour normal organs on a treatment planning CT scan. Image fusion of a diagnostic CT, PET/CT or MRI may also be used to help assist the radiation oncologist in determining where the tumor is located. The medical dosimetrist then creates a 3D-conformal or intensity modulated radiation therapy plan and determines an arrangement of beams to deliver the radiation to the tumor, while minimizing damage to normal organs. Physics calculations are done and the medical dosimetrist and radiation oncologist evaluate the dose to the tumor and organs at risk.
Once the radiation oncologist approves the course of treatment, the medical dosimetrist will prepare the plan for treatment and make sure the plan will work as designed. The medical dosimetrist communicates with the radiation therapists in implementing the treatment plan.
In addition to planning radiation treatment, Medical Dosimetrists may assist in quality assurance procedures alongside medical physicists, educate medical dosimetry students and/or work on research teams to help improve the effectiveness of radiation therapies.
It is important for medical dosimetrists to have good listening and communication skills. The medical dosimetrist must first listen carefully to the radiation oncologist to understand the treatment goals, accurately document the treatment plan and then explain it to the radiation therapist responsible for the plan’s implementation. Medical dosimetrists must also have excellent computer skills and be good at problem solving.
Medical dosimetrists are employed in hospitals or cancer treatment centers and typically work a 40-hour week.
Their work can put them in proximity to radioactive materials, so proper safety precautions must be taken to minimize exposure.
Salary Range and Outlook
Medical dosimetrists earn between $96,000 and $123,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that employment will grow 14% between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, for radiation therapists, which includes medical dosimetrists.
To become a medical dosimetrist, you must complete a four-year college degree, preferably in the physical sciences.
Following graduation, you must apply to an accredited medical dosimetry program. These programs are highly competitive and last anywhere from 12 to 24 months. The program of study involves both classroom education and clinical practice.
Education to become a medical dosimetrist is rigorous, because you must have a thorough understanding of how cancer affects the body, how radiation is used to treat cancerous cells and how to calculate the exact dose of radiation required in achieving the treatment objective. Dosage calculations require knowledge of higher-level math and the ability to visualize bodily structures using computer-generated models.
You’ll also learn all about the equipment and techniques used in radiation therapy and how to protect the safety of the patient and medical personnel.
Certification by the Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board requires passing an examination and meeting continuing education requirements.
Learn More About a Career as a Medical Dosimetrist
- Read the “What is a Medical Dosimetrist?” page on the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists website.
- Find out about the types of work medical dosimetrists do.
- American Association of Medical Dosimetrists
- Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology