Purpose The safety and quality of radiation therapy have recently garnered increased attention in radiation oncology (RO). Although patient safety guidelines expect physicians and physicists to lead clinical safety and quality improvement (QI) programs, trainees’ level of exposure to patient safety concepts during training is unknown. Methods and materials We surveyed active medical and physics RO residents in North America in February 2016. Survey questions involved demographics and program characteristics, exposure to patient safety topics, and residents’ attitude regarding their safety education. Results Responses were collected from 139 of 690 (20%) medical and 56 of 248 (23%) physics RO residents. More than 60% of residents had no exposure or only informal exposure to incident learning systems (ILS), root cause analysis, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), and the concepts of human factors engineering. Medical residents had less exposure to FMEA than physics residents, and fewer medical than physics residents felt confident in leading FMEA in clinic. Only 27% of residents felt that patient safety training was adequate in their program. Experiential learning through practical workshops was the most desired educational modality, preferred over web-based learning. Residents training in departments with ILS had greater exposure to patient safety concepts and felt more confident leading clinical patient safety and QI programs than residents training in departments without an ILS. Conclusions The survey results show that most residents have no or only informal exposure to important patient safety and QI concepts and do not feel confident leading clinical safety programs. This represents a gaping need in RO resident education. Educational programs such as these can be naturally developed as part of an incident learning program that focuses on near-miss events. Future research should assess the needs of RO program directors to develop effective RO patient safety and QI training programs.