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A health physicist is trained to monitor the use of radiation in order to protect people working with radiation, as well as the general public. Health physicists may work in hospitals, research laboratories, nuclear power reactors, or for the military. A health physicist is also the person in charge of decision making in the case of a radiation emergency.
The wide variety of career paths for health physicists requires extensive education. A background in the physical science field is vital, as well as additional training in a particular specialty area. A number of universities have recognized this as a degree field of its own, and offer a variety of educational paths for people interested in becoming a health physicist.
Health physicist technicians receive an Associate degree after two years of study. More advanced training includes earning a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s in the field. Certification for people working in the industry is available in the United States through the American Board of Health Physics, or, in the case of technicians, the National Register of Radiation Protection Technologists.
People interested in the field of health physics have many choices available. There is a growing demand for these professionals in all fields, so the job outlook for health physicists is positive. Many health physicists work in more than one field during their career.
A medical health physicist works in hospitals and clinics where radiation is used. Radiation therapy is widely used in the healthcare industry, powering machines such as x-rays, other imaging machines and particle accelerators. A physicist specializing in the medical field is responsible for the safety of the staff that works in the area, and for the patients that receive treatment. They may work in radiation therapy, radiology, or nuclear medicine departments.
Health physicists also work in research. They study how radiation reacts in different conditions so that the power of radiation can be better utilized in the future. Physicists that work in the research field also design and develop radiation equipment. Applied health physicists bridge the gap between hospital and research and recommend different types of radiation equipment for different types of radiation work.
Power reactor sites must also employee health physicists. They are responsible for maintaining the equipment, as well as training employees in how to safely work in the environment. They are responsible for the company’s response in the case of a radiation emergency. On a day to day basis, they must ensure that the plant remains in compliance with all state and federal regulations.
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