Membership Trends in the Health Physics Society: How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?

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Abstract

The Health Physics Society (HPS), formed in 1956, is a scientific organization of professionals who specialize in radiation safety. Its mission is to support its members in the practice of their profession and to promote excellence in the science and practice of radiation safety. HPS has been a diverse body since its beginnings, encompassing professionals from different disciplines with an interest in radiation safety issues. At that time, health physics was just beginning to emerge as a distinct discipline, initially spurred by the development of the atomic bomb and amplified by the commercial use of nuclear power, and there was a need for a professional group to discuss issues and share ideas and experiences in the field. Over the following years, both the field of health physics and the ranks of the HPS membership experienced a steady increase in numbers and interest. HPS continued to grow in numbers and thrive through the mid‐1990s but then began to retract. Concern regarding the “graying” of HPS was being discussed as far back as the late 1990s, yet despite efforts to broaden the base of membership through additional membership criteria, the numbers of Plenary (now referred to as Full) members have continued to shrink. The “graying” of HPS is real—although age demographic data are only available for about the past 15 y (and are provided voluntarily), the shift in age distribution over this timeframe is clear. A recent survey indicated that over 50% of HPS members are over 50 y of age, and over half of the respondents plan to retire within 10 y. As members age, they convert to Emeritus membership or drop their membership altogether, with some members unable to continue for financial or health-related reasons. There is now an age gap—members in their 30s and early 40s are missing from the mix. Potential causes for declining membership may include smaller enrollments in academic programs, reduced employment opportunities, and societal factors. There appears to be reduced employer support for participation in professional activities and travel to conferences. Societal factors include easy access to professional information through the internet, balancing of family commitments, other volunteer opportunities, and a general decline in joining professional groups. So, what is the fate of HPS? We are not alone—other professional groups are experiencing the same overall trends in membership to differing degrees. A number of initiatives have been launched or are being considered by HPS in an effort to offset this trend.

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