Recruiting and retaining in radiation oncology community

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Grants, distance learning programs and sign-on bonuses are helping attract more students to radiation oncology as well as retain more professionals, according to an article written by John Kresl, MD, PhD, chair of the workforce committee of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) and Roshunda Drummond, Esq., ASTRO government relations policy analyst.

As is well known, the profession is suffering a workforce shortage; according to ASTRO's 2002 Radiation Oncology Workforce Study, an average radiation therapy center in the United States has 14 radiation oncology healthcare professionals on staff. This includes radiation therapists, medical physicists, dosimetrists, physicians and radiation oncology nurses. However, radiation therapy practices across the U.S. have a shortage of 18.3 percent for radiation therapists, representing a current nationwide need of approximately 1,800 additional rad therapists.

According to the article, a scholarship fund and development grant programs have been created to help train new professionals. The ASTRO grant program has distributed an average of $100,000 a year in the past several years to various radiation therapy programs across the country. The American Society for Radiologic Technologists administers five scholarship programs that last year awarded 10 scholarships worth $37,500 to entry-level radiation therapy students.

Distance-based and internet learning also are becoming prominent due to the shortage of radiation oncology programs at universities across the country. In addition, the shortages have led to substantial increases in salary for all positions at all levels and even salary and retention bonuses to keep healthcare professionals in the field.

ASTRO said the article will be simultaneously published in the September 2004 issues of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics, the official journal of ASTRO, and the Journal of the American College of Radiology, the official journal of ACR.

For a copy of the study "A Historical Perspective of the Radiation Oncology Workforce and Ongoing Initiatives to Impact Recruitment and Retention," please contact Beth Bukata at bethb@astro.org or Shawn Farley at shawnf@acr.org .