How to Become a Health Physicist

If you want to become a health physicist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for this line of work:


• Those who become health physicists have a keen interest in answering the question, “What dosage levels of radiation are safe, and how can they be measured reliably?” 

• Health physicists have a natural aptitude in science and mathematics, and an education in physics, biology, biochemistry, genetics, and physiology.

• To become a health physicist, you need to be comfortable with the idea of working around radiation, as well as comfortable working others and sharing your opinions with them.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to get started in this field. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Health Physicist

Health physicists hold responsible, technical positions in several disciplines; because of this you will need a broad background of education and experience if you want to become a health physicist.


Developing a thorough understanding of radiation biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, genetics, environmental science, biochemistry, physiology and toxicology will give you the background you'll need to succeed. Knowledge in these areas is needed to answer such fundamental health physics questions as, "What is a permissible dose of radiation and how can it be measured accurately and reliably?"


To acquire this knowledge base and skill set you typically need to pursue an undergraduate degree in science, with a major in one of the aforementioned fields. Having an undergraduate degree in one of these areas will qualify you to work an entry-level health physics job, such as research assistant, or health physics technician. Training for health physics technicians is also available from schools that offer 2-year associate degrees and diplomas.


To work in consulting, research, or in one of many other applied health physics career fields, you will need a Master of Science degree in any of the above-mentioned fields, or a closely related field. To work in senior research and university teaching positions, a Ph.D. is typically needed.





General Job Description

Health physicists are responsible for ensuring the safety of living organisms and the environment when work involving radiation and radioactive substances is being conducted. Those that work in research are responsible for designing and conducting experiments and tests that serve to investigate principles by which radiation interacts with matter and living systems. They also study environmental levels of radioactivity and the effects of radiation on biological systems on earth and in space.


Health physicists may work in a variety of disciplines, including research, industry, education, environmental protection, and enforcement of government regulations. Although they typically specialize in one of these areas, they often perform duties that pertain to many different areas of health physics.



Applied Health Physics Careers

There are many career opportunities in applied health physics, as the results of health physics research can be applied in a multitude of ways, including:


• Designing radiation-detection instrumentation

• Establishing radiation-protection standards and regulations

• Establishing the future rules and regulations regarding the manufacture, use, and disposal of radioactive material

• Advising management regarding methods and equipment for use in radiation work

• Assisting engineers and scientists in designing facilities and new radiation-control programs

• Administering nuclear plant chemistry and radiation safety programs

• Controlling radiation emergencies

• Developing and instructing training programs for future health physicists

• Selecting, purchasing, and maintaining radiation protection, laboratory, and detection equipment

• Working wherever radiation sources are used to diagnose and treat human diseases

• Working as 'duty at sea' on a nuclear powered surface ship or in a nuclear submarine

• Assessing the environmental impact of released radionuclides

• Decontamination and decommissioning former research, power and military facilities 



Typical Job Duties

• Conducting research to develop inspection standards, radiation limits for personnel and safe working methods

• Testing surrounding areas of facility to ensure that radiation is not in excess of permissible levels

• Assisting in developing standards for permissible concentrations of radioisotopes in liquids and gases

• Recording plant area radiation level data

• Directing the testing and monitoring of plant and facility equipment

• May specialize in research relating to the decontamination of radioactive equipment and work areas

• Recommending changes in personnel assignment for health reasons

• Consulting with scientific personnel regarding new experiments to determine that equipment or plant design conforms to health physics standards for the protection of personnel





Who Employs Health Physicists?

There are several types of organizations that create jobs for health physicists, including organizations that are involved in research, environmental protection & enforcement, consulting, academia and government.


Although health physicists are typically hired by an organization to ensure radioactive exposure and contamination are kept as low as possible, they may be hired for a variety of other purposes, including conducting research, purchasing & managing equipment and enforcing health and safety regulations.


Organizations that employ Health Physicists typically include:


• Federal and provincial/state government department departments

• Colleges and universities

• Research facilities (operated by private companies, government or universities)

• Industry regulation organizations

• Nuclear energy facilities

• Radiation department of hospitals and other health care facilities

• Armed forces



Gaining Relevant Career Experience

In addition to academic work and developing a strong knowledge base in several areas of science, practical experience in applying radiation protection principles is essential for a career as a health physicist.


Hands-on experience for health physicist careers is commonly available at many universities, in collaboration with national laboratories and utility concerns, through work-placement, internships, and cooperative programs.



Health Physicist Salary

The salary level of health physicists can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, their area of specialization, and many others.


Health Physicist Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Physicists and Astronomers occupational group (which includes "health physicists") earn an average salary of $126,434 per year. And according to WorkBC (Province of British Columbia), the annual provincial median salary of those in the same occupational group is $108,638.


Salary - United States: According to a 2018 salary survey by the Health Physics Society, the average salary level of full-time health physicists (all specializations) is $116,627 per year. The minimum salary among the 312 professionals surveyed was $36,250, and the highest salary was $360,000 per year. 



Health Physicist Jobs - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "health physicist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.




Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "health physicist", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Cardiac Imaging Researcher

Molecular Biophysicist


Nuclear Physicist




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a health physicist.


Occupations in Alberta:Physicist.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved December 19, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Physicists and Astronomers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved December 19, 2019.

Explore Careers:Physicists and Astronomers.” (January 18, 2018) WorkBC website. Retrieved December 19, 2019.

Documents:The 2018 HPS Salary Survey.” Stephen L. Bump (n.d.) Health Physics Society  website. Retrieved December 19, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Health Physicist

Scholarships in our database that are relevant for becoming a health physicist are all of those that can be found on our Physics Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a health physicist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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