Overview of Radiation Health Physics Programs
Programs in radiation health physics, or health physics, are not too common, but students do have the opportunity to pursue the program at the bachelor's degree level. Students learn how to measure different levels of radiation in various environments and subjects to keep people safe. Some of these programs may have a pre-radiation health physics portion for the first two years of the program, followed by the professional radiation health physics portion the last two years of the program. Here we discuss more program details, including common coursework, as well as career opportunities for the degree.
Admission Requirements for Radiation Health Physics Programs
Some radiation health physics programs may require students to begin their degree program in the pre-radiation health physics program and then apply to the professional radiation health physics program after two years of introductory courses. Outside of those requirements most of these degree programs require only the general admission requirements for the institution, such as a high school diploma or GED and all corresponding transcripts. Some schools may also require a specific GPA, standardized test scores and/or letters of recommendation to go along with the school's application.
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Common Coursework for Radiation Health Physics Programs
Students in radiation health physics programs must take many courses in the life sciences, including courses designed for scientists and engineers, and typically participate in laboratory coursework for hands-on learning. Below are a few of the more common courses found in a bachelor's degree program in radiation health physics.
Radiation biology courses focus on how radiation affects the human body. Students examine radiation biochemistry and how cells, organs and body systems are affected by different levels of radiation. Students in these courses may also look into the legal ramifications of radiation exposure and its role in public safety.
Some radiation instrumentation courses are presented as standard classroom courses, while others are presented as laboratory coursework. In either form these courses learn about the different radiation detection equipment available, how to choose the appropriate equipment and different theories associated with instrumentation. Most of these courses allow some hands-on learning with equipment.
Radiation ecology courses are similar to radiation biology courses but look at the effects of radiation on whole populations of animals and even plants in the environment. Students learn how to identify radionuclides found in the environment, as well as measure their concentration. Students also discuss how these radionuclides enter and transfer through various food chains.
Some radiation detection courses may be stand-alone courses or be tied in with radiation instrumentation courses. These courses explore dosimetry and different techniques involved in radiation detection, like spectroscopy. Students also practice data collection and the various statistical calculations involved in radiation detection.
Students in nuclear physics courses learn radiation terms and basic concepts of atomic and nuclear physics. They develop an understanding of nuclear reactions, particle interactions and radiation protection standards. These courses may apply nuclear physics to nuclear reactor operations and/or the health industry and government.
How to Choose a Bachelor's Degree Program in Radiation Health Physics
There are several factors that students should consider when selecting the best radiation health physics program for them. Due to the hands-on nature of the field, students should look for programs that involve laboratory coursework and other interactive learning opportunities. Along with laboratory work, students should consider programs with updated facilities and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment. Students may also want to look for programs that incorporate the development of research skills that are applicable to a career in the field, as well as programs that offer different areas of research for students to pursue their particular interests in the field.
Career Options for a Degree in Radiation Health Physics
Graduates of a bachelor's degree program in radiation health physics usually go into careers as radiation health physicists or health physicists. According to PayScale.com, health physicists made an annual median salary of $77,347 as of December 2017. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did not provide specific job outlook data on radiation health physicists, but reported an 8% expected job growth rate for occupational health and safety specialists for 2016 to 2026. Below are a few more job opportunities for graduates of the degree program.