clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #4/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Radiation Safety and Health Physics

Health physics positions revolve around the effects of radiation on human health; typically, for the protection of populations from the risks of ionizing radiation. Health physicists monitor doses, and design and implement new measures for controlling dose. Health physicists typically work at nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), universities, and hospitals. However, health physicists are also actively recruited to serve in the military, other government agencies (e.g., US State Department, the US Central Intelligence Agency) and other civilian organizations. For those employed in a hospital or university setting, the job title tends to be Radiation Safety Officer (RSO), but the job description is very similar. Health physics is also a field of active research.

To best prepare for a career in health physics, medical physics students should take all health physics classes available to them and investigate occupational and environmental health safety courses as health physicists often work closely with environmental and occupational health safety workers. For early exposure to health physics careers, internships are available at nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, and other sites that employ health physicists. Further experience can be gained through health physics research, personnel radiation dose monitoring, attending radiation safety meetings on campus or at a hospital, and reading of relevant publications (e.g., ICRP, NCRP, ICRU, and Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations).

In most cases, a master’s degree is sufficient to work as a health physicist or RSO. Certification by the American Academy of Health Physics (Certified Health Physicist, CHP), the American Board of Medical Physics (Medical Health Physics), or the American Board of Radiology (ABR) may be expected or required. For example, many radiation safety workers at hospitals have some responsibility as a standard clinical medical physicist and, therefore, having completed the ABR certification process may be helpful or expected. To work purely as a health physicist, being a CHP may be beneficial or required.

Health physicists tend to earn less than clinical medical physicists. According to the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey, medical physicists performing health physics duties with a master’s degree and certification (certification type unspecified; median 25 years of experience) earned $155,700 on average [1]. For physicists with a doctoral degree and certification, the self-reported average salary was $193,000 (median 16 years of experience).

References:

[1] AAPM (2017). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017. https://www.aapm.org/AAPMUtilities/download.asp?file=surveys/AAPM-Salary17.pdf

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