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Career Story: State Radiological Safety Expert

State Radiological Safety Expert

Job Title: Health Physicist

Type of Company: I work for the state of North Carolina. Our primary goal is to protect the citizens and the environment from the harmful affects of ionizing radiation while promoting its safe use in industry, medicine, and research.

Education: BS, Biology, North Carolina State University •• ALM (Masters in Liberal Arts), Government, Harvard University

Previous Experience: I worked as a radiological safety technician for Harvard University.

Job Tasks: We are a regulatory agency. A typical day starts off with reviewing license applications or applications to amend current licenses for the use of radioactive materials or radiation-producing machines and returning telephone calls and e-mail messages responding to queries about the use of radioactive materials. Depending upon our luck (or lack thereof, depending upon your perspective) we may have to deal with incidents or alleged incidents involving the use or misuse of material. Most often these calls come from the scrap metal industry when an unknown radiation source in a load of scrap metal trips a monitor at the entrance to the scrap yard, but they can also be medical events where a patient receives an incorrect radiation dose, or involve the theft or loss of material from a field location.

When we receive an incident call from a licensee or a member of the public, or when someone makes an allegation against a licensee, we will conduct an investigation to determine what the facts of the situation are and respond accordingly. Most of the time the calls end up being benign. On rare occasions the call is due to the loss of radioactive material and on extremely rare occasions there is a radiation injury to investigate. We conduct health and safety inspections at facilities that use radioactive materials and radiation producing machines of all types: from accelerators to X-rays. With the current concern over terrorism and the diversion of radioactive materials for "dirty bombs" we also conduct security inspections.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best part of my job: just when I'm bored to death with the job something unique and really cool happens, and I realize that no one else in the state does what I do.

the worst part: all the paperwork, phone calls, and tedious follow-up, followed by a continuous struggle against emotion-driven politicization and willful ignorance of radiation and radiation effects.

Job Tips: While you are in school focus on the 'hard' sciences: math, chemistry, engineering, physics. Sadly, majors in biology and computer science are considered 'soft' - although I daresay the difference is trivial, since everyone entering the field requires significant additional training in radiation protection concepts and instrumentation use. To be successful a Masters degree is highly suggested, though it does not need to be in physics.

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