You know, the field of radiation and radioactivity sounds pretty interesting. Are there a lot of people that work in this area?
Yes there are. Many people fulfill roles as scientists, technicians, and radiation protection professionals at government and commercial facilities throughout the world.
Is there some form of license that attests to your qualifications?
There are actually two important credentials available to radiation protection professionals. The first is Certification by the ABHP, and the second is Registration by the NRRPT.
What is the ABHP?
The ABHP is an acronym that stands for the “American Board of Health Physics”.
Sounds impressive. How did this Board start?
Well, shortly after the Health Physics Society (HPS), a professional organization, was formed in 1956, a committee was established to examine the need for and develop plans for certification of health physicists. (In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “health physicists” are those individuals who by their education, training, and experience practice in the field of radiation safety.) The committee eventually recommended that the ABHP be established. Soon after . . . well, actually on November 8, 1958 . . . a “temporary” ABHP was formed. Approximately one year later, on October 29, 1959, the ABHP was officially recognized as the Certifying organization for health physicists following an amendment to the bylaws of the HPS.
What are the goals of the ABHP?
The ABHP is actually charged with three important tasks. The first is to develop standards and procedures. The second is to examine (test) the proficiency of candidates. And the third is to issue written proof of “certification” to successful candidates who satisfy the Board’s requirements.
So if you become certified, what designation do you achieve?
You are simply referred to as a “Certified Health Physicist” or a “CHP”. However, if you want to present a (perhaps) more interesting title, you can also refer to yourself as a “Diplomate of the American Board of Health Physics”! All of these titles are equivalent.
Ok, you’ve got me interested. Where do I begin if I want to be a CHP?
First, you have to submit an application to the ABHP. The ABHP requires that each candidate have a minimum level of education and experience in the field of health physics (or closely related) in order to meet their criteria to take the exam. The application must be submitted by January 15 of the year in which you hope to take the exam. Included in the application process are requirements for references from individuals who know you and who can attest to your capabilities and potential “readiness” for success on the exam. And of course, there is an application fee!
Sounds fair. Now tell me about the examination.
Sure. First, the exam is offered each year at the time of the annual HPS meeting, which is typically in June or July. Candidates that are approved to sit for the exam may opt to take the exam at the site of the annual meeting. Alternatively, you may wish to go to one of several “satellite” exam locations in various parts of the country that have been approved in advance by the ABHP.
Okay, what about the test itself?
Well, it is not a single exam. It actually consists of two parts, appropriately known as Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 consists of 150 multiple-choice questions covering fundamental topics in health physics. The candidate has three hours to complete this portion of the exam. It is then graded by the Part 1 Panel of Examiners. The final score is compared to a passing score established by the ABHP, the candidate is informed as to whether he/she was successful.
And if you are successful?
You’re on your way! However, you are not a Certified Health Physicist yet . . . although you may designate yourself as an “Associate” member of the American Academy of Health Physics (AAHP). This designation acknowledges the effort that has already been made by candidates on the road to Certification.
You said the test was in two parts. What about Part 2?
In contrast to Part 1, Part 2 is six hours long, and is divided into two sections. The first section covers six “core” questions, which all candidates must answer. The second section consists of seven “specialty” questions. The candidate must choose and answer any four questions. Each question has a maximum score assigned to it. Once the candidate submits the completed exam, the panel of examiners reviews and grades the responses. Candidates who satisfactorily complete both Parts 1 and 2 (not necessarily in that order) achieve “Comprehensive Certification” by the ABHP and are henceforth entitled to call themselves CHPs.
Ok, stop right there. What is this American Academy of Health Physics you keep referring to?
Good question. The AAHP was created in 1982 when it was felt the growing number of CHPs should have more input and participation in the certification process. Accordingly, the AAHP provides a mechanism for CHPs to assist in the selection of board members and ongoing programs associated with the Academy.
Okay, thanks. Now let me get back to the exam. How long does the candidate have to wait to hear from the Board after a Part 1 or Part 2 exam is taken?
The candidate is typically informed of the exam results in late November, approximately five months after the exam. Yes, both the exam and the subsequent waiting process lend themselves to periods of nervousness, but remember, important milestones are not achieved without a lot of effort . . . and some anxious moments.
Really, though, is becoming a CHP that important?
Absolutely. This is a significant professional milestone for practicing health physicists. Certainly it is true that pursuit of this designation rests with an individual’s personal career goals and perhaps the expectations of the company they wish to work for. While it is not always a necessary prerequisite to fulfill a particular work assignment, in many instances it is a fundamental requirement to work for a certain company or to tackle a particular radiation-related job or task. In any case, it is the ultimate “benchmark” for a professional health physicist and one that we at Plexus-NSD believe is truly worth pursuing.
How many CHPs are there?
Well, the number varies of course with each passing year. As new candidates are certified, others retire, and some become “inactive”. As of the year 1999, for example, there were 1,169 active CHPs and 174 active “emeritus” CHPs, for a total of 1,343 active CHPs. For a variety of reasons and circumstances that are only aware to them, there were also 303 CHPs who were listed as being on inactive status with the AAHP. However, all of these numbers have changed somewhat since then.
Well now you’ve got me wondering what the distinction is between an “active” and “inactive” CHP.
It is an important distinction. Essentially, an active CHP fulfills the requirements of the AAHP by continuing to study his/her profession on an ongoing basis, such as staying current with the scientific literature, attending approved scientific meetings and courses, etc., submitting annual dues, and maintaining the specified standards of professional responsibility. An inactive CHP has opted to forego one or more of these requirements.
How is an ongoing active certification status documented?
To maintain an active certification, the CHP is required to accrue 64 continuing education credits through various means over the course of each four-year period. The principal ways are through attendance at local and national health physics society meetings, participating in professional enrichment program (PEP) and continuing education (CE) courses offered by/through the HPS, and by taking (or teaching) other approved courses. This information is submitted to the HPS once every four years. Once approved, and as long as the rest of the requirements have been met, the CHP begins another four year re-Certification cycle.
Can an inactive CHP regain active status?
Yes, it is possible and has actually occurred. The individual would be required to contact the AAHP and discuss the approach, however, since each case is different. However, once the conditions for re-Certification are met, the individual would return to the active status.
The number of CHP’s you cited a moment ago doesn’t seem like a large number.
How right you are! It certainly isn’t. For that reason, it is a designation that an individual can proudly point to as a unique sign of achievement within the radiation safety profession.
Does Plexus-NSD have any CHPs on board?
We certainly do. All of our senior-level staff members know first-hand what it takes to meet this milestone, since they are all CHPs.
Where can I learn more about the AAHP and the ABHP?
The AAHP and the ABHP share a common website at http://www.aahp-abhp.org. There you can learn much more about these important organizations, including the latest certification figures. The HPS can be contacted through its website at http://www.hps.org or by telephoning society headquarters in McLean, Virginia at 703-790-1745.
At the start of this conversation you mentioned something called the “NRRPT”. What is that all about?
The NRRPT stands for “National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists”, an organization established in 1976 for verifying the knowledge level of Radiation Protection Technologists (RPTs).
And its purpose?
Unlike the AAHP and ABHP, the NRRPT focuses on the Registration (not Certification) of radiation protection (health physics) technicians.
I’m a little puzzled. Why would a person pursue ABHP certification versus NRRPT registration or vice versa?
An excellent question! First be aware there are several individuals that have achieved both credentials with the NRRPT often being the first step and the ABHP following later. However, one is not necessarily a precursor tothe other. While the response to this question will differ somewhat depending upon whom you speak to, here is a pretty good contrast: To begin with, health physicists, or radiation protection professionals, develop, control, and monitor equipment and programs to protect individuals and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of radiation during the use and operation of radiation-producing machines and radioactive materials. As with any other field, the practice of health physics can demand different qualifications, depending upon the needs of the employer and the type of radiological work to be performed. So while an ABHP certified individual is often responsible for overseeing a health physics program and interpreting the results of field and analytical data, a NRRPT registered technician ordinarily supports the operational objectives of the program, that is, actually performing the field measurements, collecting samples, monitoring personnel exposures, controlling contamination, and a host of other critical tasks.
So one is not better than the other?
Nothing can be farther from the truth. A Registered technician will typically not have the same type of responsibility as a CHP, but the amount of responsibility can be equal and sometimes even greater. Because of the distinction of achieving NRRPT Registration, this technician is positively viewed and respected by his/her peers, by radiation workers for whom they are responsible, by regulatory authorities, and by management.
How is Registration accomplished?
Similar to the ABHP process, the candidate submits an application (including references) with an accompanying fee. Upon concurrence from the Board of the NRRPT that the candidate satisfies the necessary educational and experience requirements, the candidate is permitted to sit for the examination.
What educational requirements do I need to enter and then advance in the health physics field?
A bachelor’s degree in physics will generally qualify graduates for entry into the health physics field. And there are several programs around the country that offer an Associates Degree in Health Physics or Radiation Protection Technology. Course work in physics, math, chemistry, biology, statistics, and computer sciences is essential. Some individuals enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree in a related scientific discipline, and take additional courses in health physics. Many health physicists earn a bachelor’s degree in a physical, biological, or engineering science and then complete graduate study in nuclear physics, radiation physics, bionucleonics, or a related specialty.
So a degree in physics isn’t necessary?
No. However a broad-based science degree is. On the other hand, if you enter the profession and wish to pursue Certification by the American Board of Health Physics, you must complete specific requirements of study and professional experience (typically a 4-year technical degree and five years of experience). And as we mentioned previously, you must pass an examination designed to test your competence in the field of health physics, you must subscribe to the Standards of Professional Responsibility as set forth by the AAHP, and you must maintain continuing certification/education as established by the AAHP. These requirements are established and administered by the ABHP.
What about the amount of experience necessary to sit for the NRRPT exam?
We encourage applicants to check directly with the NRRPT to ensure their requirements have not changed. Typically, however, at least five years of operational (hands-on) experience is required in order to be eligible to sit for the exam. The NRRPT will consider waiving a portion of the experience requirement for individuals with a Master’s or Doctorate degree.
So I can’t get out of the exam if I opt to pursue Registration, huh?
Unfortunately, no. Similar to Part 1 of the ABHP exam, the NRRPT exam also covers health physics fundamentals, focusing on areas considered relevant to the types of activities a technician needs to know to perform his or her job adequately.
Why did you say Part 1 only, and not Part 2?
Because the NRRPT exam is a series of 150 multiple choice questions taken over a period of three hours . . . the same format used by the ABHP for Part 1.
When is the exam offered?
The NRRPT exam is offered in February and August of each year. And f there is sufficient need and demand, additional exam dates will be set.
What happens if I apply to take the NRRPT exam, I am accepted and I pass?
Your family, friends, co-workers, and everyone around you will congratulate you and designate you – rightfully – as a Registered Radiation Protection Technologist. We hope you will then put the initials “RRPT” after your name!
Well, you definitely can’t rest on your laurels. There are requirements which must be completed in order to maintain registration.
What do you mean?
In January of 1999, the NRRPT instituted a Registration Maintenance Program to assure that registered technicians maintain their professional qualifications. Basically, the registrant must participate in professional development activities that have been approved by the NRRPT and must also maintain membership in the Registry for the entire maintenance cycle.
Is there more?
The maintenance cycle covers a calendar year (January 1 to December 31) period. Twenty credits must be earned in each five year cycle.
Does Plexus-NSD have any Registered technicians on staff?
Absolutely. All of our Project Managers maintain Registration by the NRRPT. We feel this is a vital credential for insuring the radiological safety of people, facilities and the environment for the duration of our projects.
If I want to learn more, how can I contact the NRRPT?
The NRRPT is located in Kennewick, Washington. For individuals interested in pursuing registration, you really should visit the NRRPT’s website at http://www.nrrpt.org/. The Executive Secretary can be contacted by telephone at 509-736-5400 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is it so important to Plexus-NSD that its radiation protection professionals be credentialed?
There are many reasons. However, the most overwhelming one is the fact that companies looking for assistance on radiological issues want real – as opposed to self-professed – radiation protection professionals on their team. Sometimes they have already learned, through an unfortunate prior experience, that it can be costly and even dangerous to work with individuals with narrow experience and knowledge, or those without an adequate understanding of basic radiation protection theory and principles.
You mean people actually practice radiation protection with deficient qualifications?
Unfortunately, they do. Furthermore, these are the first ones to assure you that they are “every bit as qualified as any ivory tower health physicist”. They are also prone to preying on the fear value associated with radioactivity and radiation as a means of maximizing their financial gains.
So how do I avoid these rascals?
One way is to interview your service vendors carefully, and to check every one of their references. (Be sure those references are from solving problems similar to yours!) You should even ask to see example products and deliverables so that you can evaluate the quality of the vendor’s work and their ability to communicate clearly what are often highly technical concepts. A credible vendor would be pleased to provide you with as many examples as you can stand. And don’t forget to ask your regulatory authorities whether they have ever heard of the vendor and/or its key radiation protection staff; bearing in mind, of course, that if the answer is “yes”, it could be either a good or a bad thing.
Hm-m-m . . . sounds tough. Isn’t there an easier way?
There sure is! Since credentialed personnel have already demonstrated, to the satisfaction of their examining boards, that they have achieved the minimum level of education, experience and technical competence necessary to be a radiation protection professional, you can always insist that the radiological professional(s) working for you be either a CHP or an RRPT, depending upon the type of problem to be addressed.