What is a Health Physics Technician?

D. Jeffress

A health physics technician tests and monitors levels of radiation at a hospital, nuclear facility, waste disposal site, or power plant. A professional utilizes sophisticated hand-held and laboratory testing equipment to accurately detect the presence of potentially harmful emissions. Data is collected and organized into official reports and passed on to supervising health physicists. In addition, a health physics technician may provide employee training to help workers understand the risks of radiation exposure and know what to do in an emergency situation.

A health physics technician may test and monitor levels of radiation at a hospital.
A health physics technician may test and monitor levels of radiation at a hospital.

Most health physics technicians work at labs and industries where nuclear materials are handled. Many technicians are full-time employees of nuclear facilities, but some workers are traveling inspectors employed by regional or national health and safety organizations. In order to gauge radiation presence, a technician might collect air, soil, or water samples in and around a facility. Some professionals carry real-time meters that are capable of analyzing certain types of radiation on the spot. Very strict protocols are usually in place regarding collection, handling, and storing of samples in order to protect the technician and other workers.

A health physics technician may work in a hospital monitoring the use of diagnostic and therapeutic imagine machines.
A health physics technician may work in a hospital monitoring the use of diagnostic and therapeutic imagine machines.

Once samples are gathered, the technician brings them to a lab so scientists can test them using computerized equipment. Most modern health physics labs are stocked with state-of-the-art tools that can calculate very precise radiation levels. In cases where test results reveal acceptable levels, the technician documents, dates, and submits findings to his or her employer. If exposure dangers are higher than they should be, he or she immediately notifies supervisors and aids in containment efforts.

Medical technicians have expert knowledge of X-ray equipment.
Medical technicians have expert knowledge of X-ray equipment.

A health physics technician may also work in a hospital or surgical center to monitor the effects of radiation on patients and staff. Medical technicians have expert knowledge of x-ray equipment and other diagnostic and therapeutic imaging machines that emit radiation. They routinely monitor general environmental exposure levels and perform body scans on employees to make sure they are healthy. Technicians can also explain the importance of proper safety precautions and teach workers how to protect themselves and their patients.

The requirements to become a health physics technician can vary depending on the region and industry. Most technicians hold at least bachelor's degrees in physics, chemistry, or biochemistry. Some employers will hire college students who are pursuing their degrees in order to provide formal training in the field. A new health physics technician in any setting typically spends several weeks assisting other professionals and mastering tools and techniques. With experience, a technician can start working independently in a nuclear plant or hospital.

Most health physics technicians work at labs and industries where nuclear materials are handled.
Most health physics technicians work at labs and industries where nuclear materials are handled.

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