“You should become a CHP (certified health physicist).”
That’s what Ian Lake, now an associate medical physicist at Beaumont Heath in Royal Oak, Michigan, was told by a colleague at an industry conference when he was just 22.
He initially filed the thought away. Then, after some consideration, he took the recommendation to heart and moved fast to become a CHP.
“It was one of the best things I ever did professionally,” said Lake.
Since he became a CHP, Lake has experienced all the advantages his colleague promised—better job opportunities, more promotions, more significant salary increases and more industry clout. And Lake isn’t alone. Statistics show that becoming a CHP transforms careers.
“These benefits and the thirst for learning more sparked my passion for becoming a CHP,” he says.
Let’s consider a few reasons why becoming a CHP could be the shot of adrenaline that turbocharges your career.
CHPs stand out above the competition
Lake has been where you are.
He knows firsthand that many job postings you're clicking, reading, considering and applying for have a specific requirement: "CHP preferred" or "CHP required."
Lake says they mean the same thing—you need to be a CHP.
"For employers, it's a lot easier to check off that box and hire somebody with those credentials than to develop someone," he said. "Being a CHP also makes it easier for employers to see if you're the right fit, rather than scanning your resume and wondering if you could be."
Consider a sampling of recent job openings.
The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, needed a new radiation safety officer (RSO). The job ad listed about a dozen qualifications. Top on the list? Must be "recognized by a specialist board as a certified health physicist (CHP)."
Meanwhile, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico needed a level three radiation protection manager. "CHP preferred" is listed under professional required certifications.
Similar job postings—including the associate RSO job at the University of California, the nuclear safety health physicist position at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and the medical physicist gig at UW Health Cancer Center in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, for instance—all said CHP preferred.
CHPs are paid better and promoted more
Positions that “require” or “prefer” a CHP are difficult to fill. For instance, the Notre Dame RSO vacancy mentioned above was posted several times before it was filled.
Thus, the newly hired CHP instantly becomes a very valuable employee as soon as they’re brought onboard, says Lake.
They’re paid and promoted that way, too, a 2021 survey of current full-time HPs and CHPs revealed.
According to the February 2022 edition of CHP Corner, a newsletter by the American Academy of Health Physics (AAHP), health physicists (HPs) averaged $119,346 in salary compensation. In comparison, CHPs averaged $152,616 in pay.
And, predictably, the more education you have, the more you make, though the pay gap between HPs and CHPs remained similar.
CHPs with a bachelor’s degree averaged $141,272, far more than the $97,250 HPs made with the same level of education. HPs with a master’s did better, averaging $125,847. But CHPs with a master’s did even better: $155,189.
Education pays. Being certified as a CHP pays the most.
CHPs have more professional credibility
What will ultimately drive you to become a CHP? For Lake, it was learning more and gaining credibility.
Early in his career, Lake landed a job at an engineering consulting company in Joliet, Illinois, 35 miles southwest of Chicago and close to several power stations. The firm specialized in chemistry and radiological effluents.
“From the sampling to the radiochemistry to the dose calculation part, there’s a lot of health physics involved in the process,” he said.
One catch: He didn’t know much about radiation or health physics.
“I’m doing these calculations, I’m getting a number, but the number means nothing to me,” he said. “I didn’t understand what the numbers represented or their impact on health or the environment. They were just numbers, like foreign currency when you’re in a different country.”
It all made sense after he became a CHP.
“Being a CHP, I was finally able to understand the information well and, even better, explain the data well, which meant a lot to my colleagues and me,” he said. “I instantly had more credibility. So did my team.”
That’s the difference being a CHP makes for employers.
If you work in any industrial, medical, academic or regulatory organization—or a business where radioactive material or radiation production equipment is common—you’re in high demand.
To become a CHP, a professional must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field, plus six years of high-level experience (advanced degrees may substitute up to two years’ experience) and pass a rigorous two-part exam.
“All that studying, knowing you can pass tests like that, and going through the years of required training, it just does wonders to your confidence,” Lake says. “Speaking to the highly technical nature of the field and being able to answer questions through various channels effectively generates the kind of confidence and credibility you can’t have otherwise.”
Lake adds, “It just makes you feel a lot more prepared in handling anything that might come your way.”
Why you should become a CHP
Certifications in any line of work tend to be worthwhile investments because of the many advantages they provide you and your career. These benefits are especially true for those who become CHPs.
“So many doors fly wide open,” says Lake. “You’re recognized as having met the professional standards of practice. Your commitment to the profession and lifelong learning is now well demonstrated through continuing education. You’re so much more efficient and knowledgeable.”
And in demand, which will lead to professional and monetary advantages that you’ll be sure to tell your colleagues about at your next industry conference, restarting a familiar but proven cycle toward being a CHP.