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Radiation Therapist vs. Registered Nurse: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Radiation therapists and registered nurses are both vital members of the healthcare industry. They provide different but important services to patients, and both roles require a high level of education and training. If you’re interested in working in healthcare, learning more about these two professions can help you decide which one is right for you. In this article, we compare and contrast radiation therapists and registered nurses, including their job duties, educational requirements and average salaries.

What is a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation Therapists work with oncologists and other medical staff to develop and administer radiation therapy treatment plans for cancer patients. They use high-tech equipment to target cancerous cells and shrink tumors while sparing healthy tissue. Radiation Therapists work with patients to ensure they are comfortable and relaxed during treatment. They also educate patients on side effects and help them manage any pain or discomfort. Radiation Therapists may specialize in a particular area, such as pediatrics or imaging.

What is a Registered Nurse?

Registered Nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families. RNs may specialize in a particular area of nursing, such as geriatrics, oncology, or pediatrics. They may also work in a specific type of nursing, such as intensive care, emergency room, or labor and delivery. RNs use critical thinking skills to assess patients, develop nursing diagnoses, and create and implement nursing care plans. They also administer medications and treatments, monitor patients’ vital signs, and provide emotional support to patients and their families.

Radiation Therapist vs. Registered Nurse

Here are the main differences between a radiation therapist and a registered nurse.

Job Duties

One of the largest differences between these two roles is the type of radiation patients these professionals are exposed to. Radiation therapists work with radioactive materials and are directly exposed to radiation throughout their daily duties. They must undergo training and become certified before working in this capacity.

Registered nurses may be exposed to small amounts of radiation when administering radiography, but they do not work directly with radioactive materials. Their job duties include assessing patient needs, providing emotional support and educating patients on post-treatment care.

Job Requirements

Radiation therapists typically need an associate degree from a radiation therapy program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). These programs usually take two years to complete and include coursework on topics like anatomy, physiology and medical ethics. Some states also require radiation therapists to be licensed.

Registered nurses must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited program before taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed. Some registered nurses may also choose to pursue a master’s degree in nursing to specialize in a certain area or advance their career.

Work Environment

Radiation therapists work in hospitals, clinics and private practices. They may travel to different locations for their job responsibilities. Radiation therapists typically work full time during regular business hours, but they may have irregular schedules that require them to work evenings or weekends.

Registered nurses can also work in hospitals, clinics and private practices. They may also work in schools, nursing homes, correctional facilities and other settings. RNs usually work full time during regular business hours, but they may have irregular schedules that require them to work nights, weekends and holidays.


Both radiation therapists and registered nurses use critical thinking skills to assess patients and make decisions about their care. They also need to have excellent communication skills to interact with patients and their families, as well as other members of the healthcare team.

Radiation therapists require specialized technical skills to perform their job, such as operating radiation therapy equipment and understanding how to administer different types of radiation treatments. Registered nurses also need to have technical skills, but they are more general in nature. For example, they need to know how to start IVs, take blood pressure readings and operate medical equipment.

Registered nurses typically have more patient interaction than radiation therapists. They may provide emotional support to patients and their families, answer questions about treatment and help patients with activities of daily living. Radiation therapists usually have less contact with patients, but they still need to be able to build rapport and provide support.


Radiation therapists earn an average salary of $89,677 per year, while registered nurses earn an average salary of $77,033 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the state in which you work, the type of facility you work in and your level of experience.


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