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How do I Become a Health Physicist?

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  • Written By: Rachel Burkot
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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A health physicist is responsible for maintaining safety when dealing with radioactive substances. Since these substances naturally yield radiation hazards, health physicists have very important duties. They also study the interaction between types of matter and living substances and investigate radioactive effects closely. To become a health physicist, certain college courses must be taken, along with proper training.

A career as a health physicist involves many different jobs in several disciplines. Therefore, the person who wishes to become a health physicist must have a thorough understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, genetics, environmental science, biochemistry, physiology and toxicology. An education in physical science is a good stepping stone to become a health physicist. Academic degrees are awarded in health physics by some colleges, but a bachelor of science in one of the disciplines mentioned above, particularly physics, is also a good foundation for this type of career.

A two-year program to obtain an associate’s degree is another way to become a health physicist. This type of program focuses on specific subjects such as engineering, physics, medical physics and radiation biology. With such a program, classroom learning blends with real-world experience. Many universities have programs set up with laboratories, where students get practical training in these science jobs. Students might help research environmental contamination, study radioactivity levels or study the procedure and risks of administering x rays.

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Once the student completes the program and training, he or she can become a health physicist. To be nationally recognized as a member of this group of scientists, the health physicist can become certified by either the American Board of Health Physics (ABHP) or the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists (NRRPT). A health physicist is required to complete professional development training and further education once he or she begins to practice, but the specific requirements for this vary based on the type and location of the job.

Health physicists can work in medical or other health care jobs. The physicist will work in the radiology or nuclear medicine department at a hospital, clinic or medical center and will use radiation sources to diagnose and treat patients. Additionally, a health physicist can work at a reactor site to purchase, manage and protect radiology equipment. No matter where they work, health physicists’ knowledge of radioactive materials makes them primarily responsible for ensuring safety at a worksite. The career of a health physicist is one that emjoys constant variety, as the education and training qualify him or her to take on many different tasks.

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