Education vs. Training: Does it Matter?

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The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements’ (NCRP) “Where are the Radiation Professionals?” initiative brought renewed attention to the declining numbers of individuals in radiation protection fields. This paper is an expanded version of the oral presentation by the author at the 2016 NCRP Annual Meeting. Health physics (HP) as a discipline and vocation is at a critical juncture. Perhaps less well recognized is the extreme peril facing academic HP programs. Higher education today is vastly different from what it was even 20 y ago. Every academic program must now make a budget case to justify its existence. Consequently, HP programs, which are by anyone’s measure minuscule, are in very real danger of closing. Given that the country will continue to need radiation protection expertise, we must take immediate steps to reinvigorate the profession and preserve academic programs. We simply cannot train or short-course our way out of this problem. Under routine conditions, individuals trained in basic HP can be expected to safely manage daily operations. But life is full of the unexpected. When the unexpected event involves radiation, we need someone well-versed in radiological fundamentals to understand, assess and safely deal with the problem. A three-pronged approach to bolster academic programs was offered: (1) increase academic cooperation and provide an infusion of cash, (2) more formally recognize the discipline of HP and increase respect for its role in safety, and (3) regulate who can be designated as a health physicist while increasing retention of individuals within the discipline.

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