Because health physicists manage use of radiation and help minimize unnecessary exposures, placing the discipline in engineering or nuclear fields seems logical. However, there are several other academic departments where health physics can be found, including medical, environmental and chemical, so tracking enrollments and degrees awarded can be challenging.
ORAU has been collecting and monitoring this data for DOE and other federal agencies for 50 years and the findings have been presented in a report titled, “Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Survey Data 50-Year Trend Assessment, 1966-2015.”
In 1966, 29 academic programs reported more than 125 total degrees awarded in health physics compared to approximately 150 degrees awarded by 22 academic programs in 2015. While these numbers are comparable, there has been significant volatility in the number of degrees awarded over 50 years. It reached its peak at 400 in 1975 before falling back to around 130 in 2001. The number of master’s degrees has outpaced undergraduate degrees in all but three of the years tracked; and doctoral degrees declined steadily from 1975 to their lowest point in 2011 before tripling in 2015.
Health physics degree enrollments have also been volatile. They were relatively stable in the 1970s and 1980s before dropping below 1,000 in 1987. There were enrollment spikes in the early 1990s and again in 2007 before falling to approximately 400 students in 2015.
While specific conclusions about the data are not made in the report, it remains the only known source of degrees data published by a nonacademic group regarding the discipline of health physics, and it provides a 50-year look at the trends for research and analysis.