ORISE report shows overall number of health physics degrees decreases to lowest level in decades Six schools phase out health physics programs entirely since previous report release

January 9, 2024 

The number of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students who graduated in 2022 with degrees in health physics dropped to the lowest level in decades, while six schools in the survey have either phased out or are in the process of phasing out health physics programs entirely.

This is according to the latest study conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which surveyed 19 health physics programs, representing nearly all such programs at the nation’s universities. Thirteen institutions reported data for 2021, and 12 for 2022. The report, titled Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2021-22 Data (.PDF, 218 KB), showed that a total of 179 bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees were granted during the academic years between September 1, 2020, through August 30, 2022.

Number of degrees low across all academic levels

Health Physics Degrees, 2009-2022 Degrees
Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2022 21 52 6
2021 19 71 10
2018 39 64 19
2017 47 56 13
2016 56 66 23
2015 49 84 18
2014 67 81 10
2013 88 86 14
2012 82 91 15
2011 64 85 5
2010 62 89 15
2009 77 83 9
Two health physicists performing a radiological survey

According to the report, 21 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in health physics in 2022 and 19 in 2021—the lowest numbers of bachelor’s degrees reported since 1973, the inception of the ORISE health physics survey. 

The number of health physics master’s degrees awarded in 2022 decreased by 27 percent and 25 percent from 2021 and 2019 levels, respectively. A total of 123 master’s degrees were awarded over the two years, the lowest number awarded since data collection began in 1966.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2022 decreased by 40 percent over 2021 awards, continuing a pattern of fluctuating award numbers since 2002. The number of doctorate degrees awarded in health physics in 2022 is the second lowest number reported since 1966.

Oregon State University had the largest number of health physics degrees awarded in 2021 and 2022 with six bachelor’s degrees and 59 master’s degrees, followed by Purdue University and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Programs have been or are being phased out at Bloomsburg University, Georgetown University, San Diego State University, University of Cincinnati, University of Maine and University of Tennessee.

Enrollment trends and short-term outlook for degree trends

Undergraduate Students. In 2022, about 180 juniors and seniors were reported to be enrolled in health physics programs, a decrease of 10% from the enrollment level reported in 2018 and about the same level as reported in 2016. Undergraduate enrollment reported for 2022 is the lowest reported since 2004 and is slightly below the average level from 2013 – 2022. The decrease in undergraduate enrollments since 2018 may result in modest decreases in the number of bachelor’s degrees earned over the next year or two, so the number of B.S. degrees may remain below 30 in 2023.

Graduate Students. Graduate enrollment in 2022 was around 230 students, an 11% decrease compared to graduate enrollments reported in 2018 and an 18% increase compared to graduate enrollments reported for 2016. Recent graduate enrollments continue to be among the lowest levels experienced since 1973, the first year for which enrollment in health physics programs was reported. The only reported graduate enrollment levels lower than 2022 occurred in 2016. The level of graduate enrollments in 2022 indicates that the total number of graduate degrees awarded in the near future is likely to remain near or below the levels of the last few years.

Employment or other post-graduation status

Several caveats should be noted when interpreting data related to career plans for graduates. One academic program that provided degree data did not provide post-graduation plan data. Also, post-graduation plan data reported for graduates receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees exceeded the total number of degrees for either 2021 or 2022 (reported in Table 1), implying the post-graduation plan data reported by some programs represents multiple years or may include part-time students in the continued study category as well as in an employment category. 

With these caveats, the reported post-graduation plans indicate that employment at medical facilities accounted for the largest share at almost 32 percent, followed by continued study/postdoctoral appointment at around 20 percent, government (federal, state, and local) and DOE contractor employment at approximately 13 percent, and nuclear utilities and other nuclear-related employment at close to 10 percent. It is noteworthy that no graduates, regardless of degree level, were reported as still seeking employment.

ORISE has collected and/or monitored data on enrollments and degrees in science and energy-related fields of study for DOE and other federal agencies since the early-1970s. View the full report on 2021 and 2022 data (.PDF, 218 KB). 

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The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.

ORISE is managed by ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.osti.gov.