Health Physics Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a master's degree or Ph.D. program in health physics? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D. program in health physics and potential careers.
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Study Health Physics: Degrees at a Glance

Health physics is the science of determining and controlling biological safety or health hazards resulting from ionizing radiation. As a health physics professional, you'll often be responsible for researching and implementing measures to protect individuals and populations from these potential effects. If you choose to earn your doctorate degree, most of the careers that you'll encounter are either in academia or involve health physics research both for the public and private sectors.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for occupational and health and safety specialists was projected to increase by nine percent from 2010-2020. This figure was below the average for all industries. Positions available for postsecondary teachers were projected to increase by 17% in the same time frame. For physicists, the BLS projected that jobs would grow by 14%, which was the national average for all careers.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this Degree for? Individuals who want to work as health physics safety specialists in the public or private sector People interested in academic positions or becoming professional health physicists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Occupational health and safety specialists ($67,000)*
- Community college professor ($68,000)*
- Postsecondary physics professor or researcher ($91,000)*
- Community college professor ($68,000)*
- Physicist ($112,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after earning the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 40-60 credit hours
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Internship requirement
Most of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- Approximately 4-6 more doctorate level courses
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Laboratory/clinic requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in health physics or a related field Bachelor's or master's degree in health physics or related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Health Physics

A plethora of master's degree programs in health physics and radiological health physics are available. In most of them, you'll learn about the health risks posed by nuclear reactors, x-ray machines, various kinds of medical treatment and other entities that produce radiation. With a master's degree in this field, you could end up working in industrial settings, medical facilities, power plants and more. Your chosen area of expertise often determines your career path, with common areas including radiation biology and nuclear engineering.

Although a master's degree program in this field is usually expensive and hard to get into, a typical master's degree program in this field offers small class sizes combined with considerable one-on-one time with professors. If your research area of interest coincides with that of a professor, you could end up working together or assisting the professor with his or her findings.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree program in health physics prepares you to increase radiation safety and human health in a variety of settings
  • Your master's degree could potentially enable you to gain employment with the federal government or military
  • Online and hybrid programs are available

Cons

  • Some jobs for occupational health and safety specialists only require a bachelor's degree
  • A master's degree program can be time-consuming and cost a lot of money
  • If you wish to go into physics education or advanced research, a terminal master's degree is typically not enough

Courses and Requirements

Although many master's degree programs in health physics offer a similar general course load, your chosen area of specialization will typically affect some of the classes that you end up taking. The following are simply a few courses that you might encounter:

  • Radiation physics
  • Nuclear medicine and nuclear instrumentation
  • Environmental health physics
  • Medical physics and therapy
  • Leadership in industry

In addition to the coursework and graduate-level exams, you'll also typically be required to research and complete your master's thesis, although non-thesis options do exist. Some programs also require that you complete a clinical or research internship.

Online Degree Options

If you're currently employed as a safety specialist or another position related to health physics, then it can be difficult to attend a full-time on-campus program. A number of online and hybrid programs in this discipline are available.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

While you're working on your master's degree in health physics, you could earn Certified Health Physicist (CHP) certification. You can earn certification through the American Board of Health Physics. Those who've earned the CHP credential are eligible to become members of the American Academy of Health Physics.

Ph.D. in Health Physics

Although there are few doctorate programs in health physics specifically, you still can earn a Ph.D. in the field. A number of medical physics programs offer health physics specializations. These programs usually combine the study of physics, biomedical engineering and radiology, but you can focus on health physics. You can also concentrate on health physics within a Ph.D. program in physics or nuclear engineering.

Doctorate programs in this field are fiercely competitive to get into and require a good deal of dedicated work for an extended period of time. After completing such a program, you can become a health physicist for a number of industries, federal and state agencies and medical facilities. Another possibility is to make a career in academia through teaching and further research.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Your research findings could potentially make working with radiation safer in the future
  • A doctorate degree will qualify you for high ranking and leadership positions in the field
  • As a university professor or researcher, you'll have the possibility of getting job security by earning tenure

Cons

  • It's extremely difficult to get into a doctorate program in this field
  • Academic and research job searches tend to be national and even internationally, so you'll need to be prepared to relocate
  • Earning tenure can be an arduous process and there are no guarantees that it will happen

Courses and Requirements

The courses that you take in a PhD. program in health physics largely depends on your chosen research concentration, as well as the focus of the program that you choose to attend. A handful of courses that you could end up taking are:

  • Applications of lasers
  • Nuclear reactors
  • Oncology and anatomy
  • Electronics
  • Detecting radiation
  • The transfer of momentum and heat
  • Medical imaging physics
  • Radiation protection
  • Computer vision and processing images
  • Radiation therapy

In typical doctorate program in this field, coursework and tests only make up a part of what you'll be required to do. You'll usually be required to put together a dissertation proposal based on your research concentration and defend it before a board. Once your proposal is accepted, you'll research, write and defend your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Because earning a doctorate degree in health physics is such a research intensive, hands-on process, few online options are available. You still may be able to complete some of your research and writing using the Internet.

Stand Out With This Degree

There are a number of steps that you can take while earning your doctorate degree in health physics to stand out in the job market. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Try to have research findings from your dissertation or other doctorate writings published in a peer-reviewed academic or scientific journal. This will look good on your resume and could earn the respect of potential employers and colleagues.
  • If you want a job with the federal government, learn the rules and regulations of the agencies that could potentially hire you. For example, if you're applying to the Nuclear Regulation Committee (NRC), make sure you have a strong grasp on that agency's laws and practices.
  • It can be useful or even mandatory to stay abreast of the latest in health physics technology, have computer skills and be able to use the most relevant software.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

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      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
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    2. Colorado Technical University

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      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
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    3. Regent University

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      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Detroit, MI

    Wayne State University

  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

  • North Chicago, IL

    Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

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  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership

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Regent University

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science