Online associate's degrees in health physics are rare and usually take two years of study to complete. Degrees in this field are more commonly offered at the bachelor's degree level or higher, and students with an associate's degree will likely need further study in order to work in the field. Extensive lab components mean the program cannot be completed entirely online, but students may be able to complete some courses through distance learning. Online study allows them to view lectures and turn in assignments at any time, although there are established deadlines for completing work. Before enrolling in an online program, students may need to equip their computers with specific software.
Prospective students who seek the flexibility of a fully online program in a health-related field may instead choose an associate's degree in healthcare administration. These programs prepare students for office work within medical facilities, so they do not have the science lab requirements of health physics programs.
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Health Physics Associate's Degree
Although more common at higher degree levels, a few schools do offer online associate's degrees in health physics. Health physics programs aim to teach students how to protect the public from the damaging effects of radiation, particularly radiation used in medical treatment. Students learn fundamentals of nuclear physics, the effects of radiation on living organisms, safe handling techniques and use of radiation survey equipment. A high school diploma or GED certificate are the minimum admission requirements for an associate's degree program.
Program Information and Requirements
Online associate's degree programs in health physics often include a lab component that must be completed on site. These types of programs are considered hybrids and are common for many programs in science and medicine. In the online portion of a program, students access all course materials and submit assignments and exams via a school's website. Online content is accessible at any time of day, but assignments must be completed by deadlines. Technical requirements include a personal computer and Internet access. Students may also be asked to purchase software and textbooks to compete specific courses. Associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.
Associate's degree programs in health physics include courses that cover the various areas of the life sciences, such as biology and chemistry. These courses help a student fulfill a program's general education requirements.
Introduction to Health Physics
This course introduces students to the basic principles of atomic physics. Topics covered include radioactivity, the biological effects of ionizing radiation and safe handling of radioactive substances. Students are able to receive instruction through DVDs and online tutorials.
Students in this course conduct a more in-depth examination into the effects of ionizing radiation on human tissue. Cellular response, short-term damage and long-term chromosomal damage are among the topics covered. Students can communicate and get immediate feedback from students and instructors using instant messenger.
Students learn to operate portable radiation survey equipment in this course, including gamma ray spectroscopy, portable counters and liquid scintillation. Coursework emphasizes techniques to identify radioactive materials. Audio and video streaming are available through the Internet to educate students on these topics.
Health physicists work for government laboratories and regulatory agencies, medical institutions, manufacturers and nuclear power plants. Graduates of an online associate's degree program in health physics are likely to need further education to work in this field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most positions require a bachelor's degree or higher. Employment of health physicists and other health and safety specialists is expected to grow 4% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). PayScale.com reports that health physics technicians earned between $43,826 and $83,198 as of October 2016.
Continuing Education Information
A bachelor's degree or master's degree in health physics opens up a wider range of career possibilities. While online bachelor's degrees in health physics are rare, many schools offer online master's degree programs in this subject.
There are a few hybrid-format associate's degree programs in health physics that provide a basic introduction to the applications of radiation and nuclear technology to medicine while also requiring students to complete on-campus labs. Students can find more comprehensive programs in the field at higher degree levels.