The undesirable effect of radiation is a matter of concern for many. However, one cannot ignore the benefits of radiation as it is useful in treating cancer and it also helps in generating power (electricity). The point being, if careless with radiations, its caustic nature can easily overtake its utility.
Health physics aims to strike a balance by minimizing the negative effects of radiation and by making the most out of its positive aspects. It focuses on how we can use radiation in the best possible way to benefit society. Since the discipline covers many sources of radiation, it deals with both naturally occurring radioactivity and manmade nuclear reactors. Due to the wide application of health physics, professionals in this discipline require a broad knowledge base. They need to have extensive knowledge of biology, physics, instrumentation, radioactive hazards, and risk analysis.
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What Health Physicists do?
There are a number of sources of radiation that can cause harm to both human health and environment. Some of the major sources that are considered hazardous include x-ray machines, medical procedures, nuclear reactors, and electrical power generation. The main responsibility of health physicists is to protect from the harmful radiations emitted by different sources. They strive to minimize exposure to radiation and help utilize new technology. Health physicists also measure radiation levels in medical doses, soil, and water. Besides, they play an important role in preventing occupational safety hazards and environmental pollution.
What degrees are available in health physics?
Only a few schools offer degree programs in health physics at undergraduate level. Associate degrees help students become health physics technician, while at least a bachelor’s degree is necessary to start a career as a health physicist. Advanced degrees are also available in health physics such as masters and PhD. Health physics degrees are normally accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Students will study a wide range of science subjects in health physics such as biology, physics, chemistry, and anatomy. In addition, they also attempt courses in biology, genetics, physiology, and biochemistry. Some degree programs also allow students to specialize in the field. This usually includes medical physics, nuclear engineering, and radiation biology. Not only will the students get classroom instruction in the degree programs, they will also acquire practical training by working in laboratories. Following are the major degree programs offered in the field of health physics.
Associate’s degree in Health Physics
Students will rarely find an associate’s degree in health physics, as degrees in this discipline are generally offered at graduate level. Besides, an associate degree will not be enough for most positions and students will need to acquire further education to find jobs. Most associate’s degrees can be completed in two years. Students need to study the basics of radiation biology and atomic physics. They also gain insight into effects of radiation on living organisms, safety measures, and use of equipment in radiation survey. For admission, students need to have a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some of the major courses offered include radiation biology, introduction to health physics, and nuclear instrumentation.
Bachelor’s degree in Health Physics
Bachelor’s degree in Health Physics focuses on radiation safety. It’s a rigorous degree and students learn through different modes of instruction. They learn and acquire new skills through computer, multimedia, and practical work in laboratories. Students need to first complete general education courses and then move on to core courses. Some of the core courses include radiation biology, environmental health physics, principles of health physics, radiation detection, and health physics research. Students may also be given a choice to select elective courses of their interest. After a bachelor’s degree, students can find entry-level jobs that require problem solving and critical thinking skills. The degree program requires students to have a high school diploma and may also ask them to complete science subjects such as chemistry, physics, and biology.
Master’s degree in Health Physics
Master’s degree in Health Physics aims to provide detailed knowledge of radiation detection and prevention. In this degree, students not only gain technical knowledge but they are also trained to develop better communication and analytical skills. Although, coursework can vary from one program to another, some of the major courses offered in the master’s degree include radiation biophysics, radiation physics, case studies in health physics, introduction to health physics, and instrumentation for radiation health physics. There are a number of admission requirements for the master’s program. Students need to complete coursework related to different areas of physics. They need to have a bachelor’s degree in physical sciences or biology. They may also need to submit their Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score and have at least a CGPA of 3.0.
PhD in Health Physics
The doctoral program in health physics is for those who want a career in nuclear energy, radioactive materials, and radiation. The curriculum and research work prepares students to perform effectively in the field of radiation protection. Students cover topics such as physical aspects of radiation, biological effects of radioactive material, and prevention methods for people and the environment. They also acquire in-depth knowledge of the beneficial ways in which the power of radiation and radioactive materials can be harnessed. Admission requirements generally include a relevant master’s degree, a decent CGPA, and letters of reference.
What will be my salary and career prospects as a health physicist?
Health physics professionals fall in the category of health and safety specialists and according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of health and safety specialists is likely to increase at a rate of 7 percent between the years 2012 and 2022. The increase in the use of nuclear power is likely to lead to greater demand for health physicists. Health physicists can specialize in the following careers:
Power Reactor Health Physicists
Health Physicists in Education
Military Health Physicists
Environmental Health Physicists
Medical Health Physicists
Health Physicists in Occupational Safety
BLS also states that in May 2010, the annual median wage for health physicists was $106,370. This is considerable higher than the median annual wage across all occupations.