Health and medical physics programs teach people how to apply nuclear physics to medicine and public health protection. Students learn about the dangers of radioactive atoms as well as the safety standards for radiation use. In the case of medical physics, they also learn how to research, diagnose, and treat radiation-related problems.
If you think of danger when you hear the words "radiation," "radioactivity," or "nuclear," you have good reasons. Maybe you think of the devastating power of nuclear bombs or the health hazards of radioactive chemicals. In small quantities, however, radioactive atoms can be useful in healthcare. You can use radioactivity for the purposes of medical diagnosis and treatment.
However, you do need to handle radioactive elements with care. As a student in a health or medical physics program, you learn how to use radiation safely and to protect others from potential hazards. You study concepts from many different disciplines, including physics, biology, chemistry, physiology, and environmental sciences.
In order to prevent misuse of radiation, you learn to operate machines that detect levels of radioactivity in the air. In a medical physics program, you study the different uses of radiation in medicine and learn how to properly dispose of radioactive materials. There are just a few examples of the many different things you would learn as a student in these programs.
About 40 schools offer programs in health physics and about five schools have programs in medical physics. You can earn a master's or doctoral degree in both health and medical physics. Some of these schools offer bachelor's degrees in health physics as well.
A bachelor's degree in these programs typically takes four years of full-time study after high school. A master's degree usually takes six to seven years, and a doctoral degree ten to eleven.