This fall I’ll be starting grad school, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. This road began a few years ago when my dad, after seeing a newspaper article about the field of Radiation Therapy, suggested I consider it as a new career. The article said that the work was steady and the money good. As part of my road toward becoming a Radiation Therapy Tech, I volunteered in a hospital and figured out very quickly that Radiation Therapy is not for me! Maybe it’s for you. Read on and decide for yourself.
Let me tell you a story.
RTT (Radiation Therapy Technology) isn’t for me, but probably not for the reason you think. Most people think that the danger of the X-rays, or dealing with sick people is difficult. First, the X-rays aren’t an issue: the beam is so incredibly lethal that there are many interlocks to make sure you never get near it. And it’s not dealing with sick people, heck all the people you see are healthy enough to make it into an 8 week course of treatment shooting death rays at their head and stuff. Read on.
I spent a day volunteering in the Radiation Therapy department of a local hospital. I was in the middle of a 6 month volunteership in the Radiology department of the hospital (but that is a different story). In Radiation Therapy, I got to watch the tech and the nurse do their thing for about 5 hours. I saw them work with patients, operate giant death ray, and chat between one another.
The control room in the hospital’s basement is quiet except for the incessant “bip.. bip.. bip.. bip.. bip.. bip..” of the machine telling you the beam is on. You see, although everything is pretty straightforward, the solemnity and responsibility of firing a huge death ray straight into people’s vital organs (and hopefully missing the healthy bits) requires quite a bit of focus. One mistake could spell a gruesome death for a patient. The room looks like one of those 1950’s science fiction movies where people in white coats operate Big Science machines, which is fascinating and all except that all those movie scenes lasted waaaay too long. This is no exception.
I’ll be frank, I found the job mind numbingly boring, non-interactive, and sad. What they did was quite simple:
- bring the patient into the treatment room
- strap them down
- leave the room
- watch the patient on a TV monitor while administering the treatment, finger hovering over the “stop death ray!” button
- turn the dial every couple minutes to start a different treatment (a treatment which has been chosen by the prescribing doctor down the hall)
- unstrap them
- walk them out
- repeat every 15 minutes for 30 years
The worst is what happened when I asked two folks that worked there about their work.
I chatted with the nurse and got her in a good mood. Then I asked if she liked working in Radiation Therapy and she said… well, here’s how the conversation went:
Lee: Do you love your job?
Nurse: [hesitation and then ] Well……
Lee: Do you like your job?
Nurse: [her shoulders fell a little]
Lee: Do you not hate your job? (I’m thinking “Oh my god, what if she doesn’t answer this third question, where the hell do we go from there?!”)
Nurse: Well… [she paused and then spoke slowly and with a bit of sadness] it’s sad when you see patients continue to come in and keep getting worse. And it’s especially bad when a patient stops coming in mid-way through treatment because… well, you know.
And that’s all she had to say about her job . . . . to a new volunteer! Yipe. :-(
I chatted up one of the Technologists and asked..
Lee: Do you like your job?
Tech: [pausing to give a thoughtful answer. Then he spoke clearly and slowly, looking me straight in the eye] It’s monotonous. It’s not enjoyable. It pays ok but… [and his voice trailed off. It was time to change the subject]
And that’s pretty much how the tech left it. Yow! This is not job satisfaction.
Your mileage may vary but this does not look like the career for me!