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Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
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3


The Radiobiology Workforce

This chapter examines the available information about the supply of and demand for radiobiology researchers—a part of the fourth element of the committee’s statement of task. It identifies the wide range of scientists who study radiation health and biology and summarizes the available studies of workforce issues, including data from professional associations in the field. The chapter also notes other efforts to foster training and development of investigators.

THE COMMITTEE’S APPROACH

The committee encountered several challenges in gathering data to support its evaluation of the supply of and demand for radiobiology researchers, difficulties that have also complicated the analysis of workforce issues in related fields like radiochemistry (NRC, 2012). Notably, “radiobiology” is not among the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification categories and—as a result—the bureau does not gather information on employment or make projections regarding it. Further, although educational institutions grant graduate degrees in radiobiology and radiation biology, not everyone who conducts research in the field holds a degree with that name, and not everyone who earns such a degree conducts radiobiology research, complicating the evaluation of supply. And finally, a number of foreign institutions—for which no data are available—grant radiobiology degrees and some of their graduates practice in the United States. For these reasons, it was not feasible to conduct a quantitative analysis with any certainty.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
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The committee thus took a broad-based approach to assembling information, including qualitative information. As detailed in this chapter, it reviewed material on education, and on workforce supply and demand in related fields; requested and summarized data from professional societies whose members address radiation health issues; searched funding databases for radiation health- and biology-related research opportunities; and examined the available journal and grey literature on the topic. The committee also solicited opinions from prominent professionals in the field and consulted stakeholders concerned with these issues. Additional detail on these issues is provided in the remaining sections of the chapter.

RADIOBIOLOGY AS A FIELD OF STUDY

Radiobiology, the study of the effects of ionizing radiation on living things, is a diverse field that addresses basic research, medicine, public health, and national security needs. Ionizing radiation is found in many environments and used in various ways; as a result, the people who study or apply radiobiology come from a variety of disciplines. Physicians and other health professionals use ionizing radiation for procedures such as diagnostic imaging, accurate placement of medical devices, and therapeutic purposes such as killing cancerous cells. In the nuclear power industry, health physicists and radiological engineers are responsible for preventing and detecting accidental releases that might expose employees or the surrounding communities. Workers who may be exposed occupationally when mining radioactive ores or when manufacturing, repairing, or operating equipment that uses ionizing radiation are monitored by industrial hygienists and other occupational health specialists. Radon, a gas formed naturally from the decay of radioactive elements found in the environment, is a source of concern for public health professionals. Basic research scientists investigate the genetic, molecular, immunological, cancer, cardiovascular, ophthalmologic, and other effects of radiation on a variety of animal models, tissues, and cells. Epidemiologists and biostatisticians are now using biomarker and other information generated by radiobiology research to identify and distinguish populations for study. Military health, science, and command personnel need to control or manage the effects of ionizing radiation emitted by nuclear weapons, depleted uranium munitions, certain monitoring and detection devices, and the nuclear power sources used in submarines and aircraft carriers.

Given that these applications typically require different areas of expertise, the educational backgrounds of these professionals are also diverse. Radiobiology is taught through dedicated academic programs but also through specialized tracks in other fields (for example, nuclear engineering and health physics programs). This diversity of disciplines and specializations is evidenced in graduate training programs that make primary use of

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

faculty in several departments and with several different areas of expertise, such as biology, engineering, medicine, or physics. In addition to Ph.D. scientists who traditionally conduct research, physician-scientists who have earned an M.D. or an M.D./Ph.D. and completed appropriate postdoctoral research training may also conduct independent research. Also, individuals who pursue a Ph.D. often have earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fields akin to but outside of radiobiology.

The task of assessing the supply of and demand for researchers in radiobiology as well as the adequacy of current research training efforts necessitates recognition of this diversity. Accordingly, the committee adopted an expansive working definition of radiobiology and examined literature from related fields when appropriate. Although personnel in radiobiology are engaged in a variety of roles, including clinical care, radiation-exposure monitoring, radiation protection, and teaching, the committee was charged to focus on researchers. Because a research or professional doctorate-level education1 typically requires the conduct of scientific investigations, this chapter targets the subset of people with such training and the academic programs that educate them. Individuals and training programs primarily involved in applied roles such as nuclear medicine technology and radiation therapy were not included.

STUDIES OF THE RADIATION HEALTH AND BIOLOGY RESEARCH WORKFORCE

During the last decade, increasing attention has been paid to issues related to the radiation health and biology workforce. The Health Physics Society (HPS)2 has repeatedly examined the radiation workforce in the energy, health, and security sectors (HPS, 2005, 2008; Nelson, 2004; ORISE, 2009). Taking into account all degree levels and roles, the HPS produced what was described as a conservative estimate of approximately 6,700 radiation-protection professionals working in the United States as of 2004. On the basis of a 55% decline in the number of bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees, as well as a drop from 20 to 7 in the number of health physics programs graduating at least five students annually between 1995 and 2002, the HPS expressed concern over whether the pipeline in health physics could actually replenish the pool of radiation professionals in the future. Its conclusion was, “[T]he critical human capital shortage in radiation safety is overwhelming the Society’s efforts to help respond to this

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1 Ph.D. and Sc.D. are typical doctoral-level research degrees; M.D. is a typical doctoral-level professional degree.

2 HPS is an independent, nonprofit scientific organization of professionals who specialize in radiation safety. It comprises ~5,000 members (HPS, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

crisis” (HPS, 2008, p. 4). A report published by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) in 2009 on workforce trends for health physicists through 2012 reiterated this concern. It stated, “[I]t is highly likely that the number of job openings for new graduate health physicists will continue to exceed the number of new graduates available in the labor supply through 2012” (ORISE, 2009, p. 5). A 2013 update stated that the number of graduate enrollments in health physics programs was the lowest reported since the early 1970s and anticipated that there would be decreases in master’s and doctoral degree recipients in 2014 and 2015 (ORISE, 2014).

A survey by Rosenstein and colleagues (2009) of faculty members employed in radiation biology in U.S. and Canadian residency programs revealed similar concerns over the declining numbers of radiobiologists in this sector. Those data showed both that the faculty members who are responsible for teaching radiation biology to radiation-oncology residents are aging (average age, ~58 years) and that faculty members whose degree is in radiation biology are scarce. Consequently, the investigators concluded, “[T]he declining numbers of radiobiologists has the potential to threaten the quality of the didactic radiation biology education that radiation oncology residents receive and could also affect research mentoring for residents” (Rosenstein et al., 2009, p. 904). This also has implications for the radiobiology research workforce—particularly the pool of physician-scientists involved in clinical and translational research related to radiation oncology.

Stating that “[c]urrent and potential shortfalls in the number of radiation scientists stand in sharp contrast to the emerging scientific opportunities and the need for new knowledge to address issues of cancer survivorship and radiological and nuclear terrorism,” the Radiation Research Program (RRP), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) held a workshop in 2003 titled “Education and Training for Radiation Scientists” (Coleman et al., 2003). Several recommendations resulted from this effort, two of which specifically addressed the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI). One of those called for the Institute to continue its coordination with other federal agencies engaged in radiation research and biodefense, and the other advised that AFRRI, in collaboration with other agencies and institutions, “[a]ccelerate plans to develop an educational program in radiation sciences within the Uniformed Services University for [sic] Health Sciences [USUHS] in collaboration with neighboring regional programs” (Coleman et al., 2003, p. 735).

Wogman and colleagues (2005) addressed issues related to the workforce of nuclear scientists and engineers, including those conducting radiobiology research, at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Their assessment noted that the United States is facing serious attrition of nuclear scientists and engineers and their capabilities through the effects of aging. On the basis of the num-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

ber of personnel eligible to retire by 2010, the investigators estimated that a significant loss of senior nuclear science and technology staff at PNNL would occur by 2015 and concluded that the maintenance and replenishment of the human capital needed to support PNNL nuclear science and technology programs were key issues that required immediate attention.

In 2012, Vichare and colleagues (2013) surveyed all members of eight specialty societies to examine the characteristics of currently practicing radiation oncology professionals. In contrast to Wogman and colleagues, these investigators found that respondents3 believed that the overall supply of and demand for the radiation workforce in that field was balanced but that there was a perception of an oversupply of professionals in certain disciplines, including medical physicists (Vichare et al., 2013). However, the meaningfulness of those conclusions is ambiguous, given that only 19% of those surveyed completed the questionnaire and that the assessment of undersupply or oversupply was derived from respondents’ self-perceptions, which may be based more on their own experiences than on objective data on the workforce across all employment sectors.

In July 2013, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP)—a congressionally chartered private corporation (Public Law 88-376) charged with advising the U.S. government on radiation-protection issues—hosted a workshop titled “National Crisis: Where Are the Radiation Professionals? (WARP).” The workshop was attended by representatives from federal and governmental agencies, universities, professional societies, and the private sector. Partly on the basis of reports from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on the Assessment of and Outlook for Nuclear Physics (NAS, 2013) and the American Physical Society (APS, 2008), participants concluded that the human capital crisis (in radiation sciences) continues to deepen. They identified four basic needs and recommendations for action (Pryor, 2013):

  1. Collect data on an ongoing basis to monitor current and future supply and demand.
  2. Improve coordination among the government, academic, and private sectors to ensure national capability to manage radiological incidents and maintain the radiation sciences enterprise.
  3. Continue federal support of academic education programs and basic research in radiobiology, medical countermeasures, improved detection capability, and nuclear forensics.
  4. Cultivate radiation professionals who can develop the new science required for the future, ensure the safe use of radiation for the

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3 About 15% of the 35,204 surveys distributed yielded responses that could be analyzed.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

health and welfare of the U.S. population, and respond to radiological incidents.

A working committee formed as part of this effort was charged with gathering additional information and developing a position statement on workforce issues. The April 2014 edition of the HPS’s Health Physics News contained an update on this effort. Among the observations offered were that a coordinated, broad-based, and comprehensive effort should be undertaken to address the dwindling number of radiation professionals, that “continued data gathering to monitor supply and demand is needed” and that “increased federal support of academic education programs and basic research in radiobiology, medical countermeasures, improved detection capability, and nuclear forensics is essential” (Boice, 2014, p. 22).

In summary, the radiation health and biology workforce has gained repeated attention from researchers and professional societies, most of whom have concluded that that workforce may soon be inadequate to meet the multiple roles it occupies in the academic, medical, energy, and defense sectors. Anecdotally, Dr. Tom K. Hei, a former president of the Radiation Research Society (RRS),4 expressed the belief that demand for research professionals will outstrip supply because of the growing need for research on radiation and the dearth of graduate training programs to train future independent investigators (Hei, 2013). Others have noted that attrition in the existing workforce will exacerbate shortfalls in the number of new professionals entering the field. Specific information on the subset of professionals who pursue research careers is lacking.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RADIATION HEALTH AND BIOLOGY RESEARCH WORKFORCE

To better understand the characteristics of the radiation health and biology research workforce, the committee solicited input from three professional associations: the HPS, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM),5 and the RRS.

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4 The RRS is a professional society whose objectives are to encourage advancement of radiation research in all areas of the natural sciences; to facilitate cooperative research between the disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine in the study of the properties and effects of radiation; and to promote dissemination of knowledge. The RRS numbers approximately 1,600 members (RRS, 2013).

5 The AAPM describes itself as “a scientific and professional organization, founded in 1958, composed of more than 8,000 scientists whose clinical practice is dedicated to ensuring accuracy, safety, and quality in the use of radiation in medical procedures such as medical imaging and radiation therapy” (AAPM, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

TABLE 3-1 HPS Member-Reported Employment Specialties in 2012

Employment Specialty Number of Members Employment Specialty Number of Members
Not identified 1,702 Instrumentation 200
Applied health physics 844 Nuclear medicine 199
Radiation safety/survey 766 Research 164
Radiological assessment 450 Other 119
Medical physics 439 Accelerators 104
Regulations/standards 398 Nuclear fuel cycle 100
Dosimetry 355 Radiochemistry 98
Reactors, power 311 Radiation biology 97
Environmental monitoring 299 Personnel monitoring 75
Waste management 263 Nonionizing radiation 60
Administration 237 Reactors, other 46
Education 208

SOURCE: Hamrick, 2013.

The HPS requests employment information both when an applicant joins and when a member renews membership. Table 3-1 presents data suggesting that about 4% (261 individuals) of HPS members are involved in “research” or “radiation biology,” even though the organization primarily attracts radiation-safety and radiation-protection practitioners. In contrast, RRS members span several scientific disciplines and are more explicitly focused on research; the proportions of its members with ties to radiobiology-related fields are much greater: biology, 43%; medicine, 25%; physics or biophysics, 16%; chemistry, 5%; and multidisciplinary, 11% (Cucinotta, 2013).

One difficulty in interpreting such data is the large percentage of missing responses: that about half of the HPS members did not identify a specialty raises the possibility of response bias if the nonresponders are distributed differently across the various specialties. Another difficulty is that many radiobiology and health physics researchers may not be members of the HPS, given that its focus is on radiation-protection professionals. If this is the case, then these data may not accurately represent the workforce in radiobiology research.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF THE RADIATION HEALTH AND BIOLOGY RESEARCH WORKFORCE

As already noted, radiobiology research typically requires a doctoral degree. Examining the literature on the number of doctoral degrees awarded in radiobiology and related disciplines may thus provide some insight on

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

the supply of future investigators, although not all individuals with such credentials will participate in radiation health and biology research. Information on master’s degrees is also included because such degrees may be awarded during the pursuit of a Ph.D.

The two traditional sources on Ph.D. and research-based degrees—the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) and the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED)—have only recently reported relevant data on earned degrees. NCES began collecting information on health and medical physics and radiobiology in 2003, and the SED first incorporated a separate code for health and medical physics and radiological sciences in 2010. The NCES Digest of Education Statistics draws information from various sources, including surveys of degree-granting institutions (NCES, 2013a; NSF, 2014).

In contrast, the SED6 annually collects information from individuals receiving research doctoral degrees from all accredited U.S. institutions. Every person receiving a doctoral degree is asked to participate, and many institutions require completion of the questionnaire before the degree is awarded. A doctoral degree7 is described as follows: “(1) Requires the completion of an original intellectual contribution in the form of a dissertation or an equivalent culminating project (e.g., musical composition) and (2) Is not primarily intended as a degree for the practice of a profession” (NSF, 2014).

These data, however, have limited ability to estimate the flow of new investigators into the radiobiology workforce. First, they pertain only to degrees awarded by U.S. universities; however, many radiobiology researchers have been trained by institutions outside of the United States. Second, these data may include foreign citizens who may or may not remain and work in the United States after their graduation. For example, 28% of the doctoral degrees awarded in medical physics or radiological science in 2011 were to holders of temporary visas (NSF, 2013a). Data on M.D.s trained in radiobiology research are also not readily available. Consequently, although this information gives one indication of the supply of potential future researchers, it should be interpreted with caution.

Table 3-2 shows the total number of master’s and doctoral degrees awarded in “health or medical physics” and “radiation biology or radiobiology” from 2003 through 2012, according to NCES.8 SED data on doctoral degrees in “medical physics or radiological science” from 2010

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6 The SED is sponsored by National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NSF, 2014).

7 Generally, this refers to degrees such as a Ph.D. or Sc.D.; professional degrees such as an M.D. are not included in the SED (NSF, 2014).

8 NCES Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes 26.0209 for Radiation Biology or Radiobiology and 51.2205 for Health or Medical Physics.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

TABLE 3-2 Earned Degrees in Health and Medical Physics and Radiation Biology or Radiobiology in the United States by Type of Degree, 2003 Through 2012

Year Health/Medical Physics Radiation Biology/Radiobiology Medical Physics/Radiological Science
Master’s Doctorate Master’s Doctorate Doctorate*
2003   28   3   17 9    
2004   15   2   12 9    
2005   25   1   16 4    
2006   36   1   21 8    
2007   51   1   20 8    
2008   52   2   22 8    
2009 109 16   12 4    
2010 110 15     4 2   61
2011 120 12   13 7   74
2012   79 51     9 8   81

*Data are from NSF. All other data are from NCES.
SOURCES: NCES, 2005a,b, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013a,b; NSF, 2013b,c,d.

through 2012 are also displayed.9 The combined number of doctoral degrees awarded for health or medical physics and radiation biology or biology awarded each year as reported by NCES is small, ranging from 5 in 2005 to 59 in 2012. In all, NCES reported a total of 171 doctoral degrees—104 in health or medical physics and 67 in radiation biology or radiobiology—granted from 2003 through 2012 (NCES, 2005a,b, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013b).10 However, the total number of doctoral degrees for medical physics or radiological science as assessed by the SED for a much shorter period (2010–2012) is much higher: 61 in 2010; 74 in 2011; and 81 in 2012—a total of 216 degrees awarded over 3 years (NSF, 2013b,c,d). The reasons for this disparity are not clear. For example, they could be a methodological artifact resulting from institutions’ reporting on degree fields (the NCES surveys) versus individuals’ choosing what their degree field was (the SED surveys). Further, some degree recipients earned their Ph.D.s in disciplines other than radiobiology (e.g., physics) but chose to report the track as medical physics. In some cases, the institution may

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9 SED code 577 for Medical Physics or Radiologic Science. Prior to 2010, most respondents who wrote in “medical physics” selected the “physics, other,” “biophysics,” “applied physics,” or “health sciences, other” designation (Latter, 2013).

10 In comparison, the overall number of biological and biomedical sciences doctoral degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions increased from 5,268 in 2003 to 7,935 in 2012 (NCES, 2013c).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

have classified their degree as physics for the NCES survey whereas the individual degree recipient may have chosen medical physics or radiologic sciences for the SED survey.

The number of master’s degrees in radiation biology or radiobiology awarded over the 2003–2012 period remained relatively unchanged while the number of health or medical physics master’s degrees graduates increased. The latter result may be a consequence of the significant growth in medical physics (both diagnostic and therapy tracks) training programs in the United States. For example, the number of Ph.D. degree programs—including those that may also award master’s degrees—has expanded from 21 in 2009 to 29 in 2012 (Jackson, 2012). Although the primary purpose of medical physics training is to prepare people to perform clinical service and consultation and to help fulfill the demand for technological advances in devices used in radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging, some of that training can be applied to research questions in the field of radiobiology.

Academic Programs

Universities offer radiobiology education within schools of medicine and medical centers as residencies or specialty training for residents; degrees are also awarded through schools of engineering or life sciences. A handful of programs in the United States are dedicated to doctoral and postdoctoral training focused on researching the biological effects of radiation (Purdue University, 2013; University of Iowa, 2013; The University of Texas Health Science Center, 2013; Yale School of Medicine, 2013). However, the number of training facilities for radiological workers around the nation is decreasing, and some of the centers that trained the current leaders in the radiation research community have either been closed or are struggling (Hei, 2013).

An important note is that there are also several important educational opportunities and institutions outside of the United States that contribute to the domestic supply of doctoral-level researchers. Data describing the number of persons with doctorates from foreign institutions entering the U.S. radiobiology workforce are not available, although the committee suspects it may be substantial. As Chapter 4 notes, for example, 7 of AFRRI’s 19 principal investigators received their doctorates outside of the United States (India [3], China, Germany, Italy, and Russia [1 each]) (AFRRI, 2013).

Radiobiology Training Programs

It is difficult to quantify the availability of support for training and for training programs for those wishing to study radiobiology. A program need not have the words “radiation biology” or “radiobiology” in it in order

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

provide education or funding, and not all those who end up conducting research in radiation biology do their graduate training in that field. That said, some programs focused on training radiobiologists or improving research skills are available, and a few examples of efforts that assist in investigator development follow. In addition to these, organizations provide training grants to researchers working in related areas like radiation epidemiology (NCI, n.d.-a) and health physics (HPS, 2014), and on specific health issues like cancer that radiobiologists may study (ASTRO, 2014; NCI, n.d.-b).

NASA Space Radiation Summer School (NSRSS)

Offered each summer since 2005, the NSRSS program consists of approximately 3 weeks of intensive courses primarily focused on high-LET (linear energy transfer) radiation, taught by National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) biologists and physicists. Eligible participants include graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members. NSRSS aims to provide a pipeline of researchers to tackle the challenges of radiation exposure to humans who will travel on space exploration missions (NASA, 2014). The program is administered at the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and is sponsored by NASA’s Space Radiation Program, BNL, and the NASA–BNL Space Radiation Biology Program.

DOE Scholars Program

The DOE Scholars Program was created to engage undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students in DOE programs and research to allow them to explore a career at the DOE and to better understand the DOE’s functions. The program sponsors paid internships that include opportunities for research and development of individuals with potential for DOE employment. The internship lasts for approximately 10 weeks. Many disciplines related to the DOE’s operations, from scientific to management, including radiation biology, are considered. The program is managed by ORISE (DOE, 2014).

MELODI (Multidisciplinary European Low Dose Initiative)

MELODI, a collaborative European research agenda on low-dose radiation risk, emphasizes the need for developing and training investigators; to accomplish this, all MELODI programs are required to have an educational or training component. DoReMi (Low Dose Research Towards Multidisciplinary Integration), the programmatic arm of MELODI, is designed to “develop an integrated support system for Education and Train-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

ing both within the research effort in the other work packages, and more broadly within the low-dose radiation-risk research community as a whole” (DoReMi, 2014a). Annual education and training workshops and a series of short courses have been developed to support the continued stream of scientists dedicated to researching the effects of low-dose ionizing radiation. DoReMi also sponsors conferences and other educational events (DoReMi, 2014b).

WE-Heraeus Physics School on Ionizing Radiation and the Protection of Man

This 10-day seminar, funded by the WE-Heraeus Foundation and held in Bad Honnef, Germany, aims to teach and engage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the field of radiation protection. Lectures are given by interdisciplinary experts. Several topics are covered: basics of radiation physics, radiation biology, and statistics; basics of radioecology and radioepidemiology; natural and anthropogenic radiation exposure; radiation effects from various sources; ionizing radiation in medicine; and practical aspects of radiation protection (Helmholtz Zentrum München, 2012).

EVALUATING THE DEMAND FOR AND SUPPLY OF RADIOBIOLOGY RESEARCHERS

Current Demand

Skipperud and colleagues (2009) carried out a stakeholder needs assessment of several fields that address radiological protection and related health issues as part of a European effort to assess whether educational institutions were meeting the demand for professionals by industry, government, and research entities (Skipperud, 2011). The researchers noted that aging faculty, outdated facilities, inadequate course offerings, and lack of student interest were all contributing to a lack of scientists being trained. The authors concluded that there is

a significant and constant need for post-graduates with skills in radiochemistry, radioecology, radiation dosimetry, and environmental model-ling and a smaller, but still important, demand for radiobiologists and bio-modelers. (Skipperud et al., 2011, p. 1013)

The effort to meet radiobiology needs was being driven by government and research institution stakeholders.

Similarly, the supply of and demand for radiobiology researchers are affected by available research funding. For example, the size of doctoral

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

programs may be driven primarily by departmental needs for teaching assistants and research assistants, the latter of whom are largely supported by research grants (Massy and Goldman, 1995). A search of several databases for government contracting and sources of funding conducted by the committee in early 2013 showed a range of sponsors, research institutions, and interests involved in radiation health- and biology-related research. Those databases indicate the number of solicitations, grants, and length and topical areas, but they provide incomplete information about funding amounts and workforce requirements. However, they do indicate the contracting and grant activity, important stakeholders, and interests in the field, which are at least indirectly related to the current demand for radiobiology researchers. A compilation of this information is presented in Table 3-3.

Drivers of Future Demand

As it is with many efforts to construct valid workforce projections, it is difficult to accurately estimate the future need for radiobiology researchers. However, certain trends in the use of radiological materials and information gaps in the science suggest that demand will continue and may increase. Those trends include increased use of radiation for diagnostic imaging, the emergence of new forms of radiation therapy, and a resurgence of interest in nuclear energy (Hei, 2013).

Chapter 2, which addresses current directions in radiobiology research, identifies a number of unanswered questions about the human health effects of low-dose ionizing radiation exposures that require attention. Answers to these questions are needed to better quantify radiological risks and derive exposure guidance that can be used when making public health decisions (for example, shelter in place versus evacuation versus long-term relocation) in the wake of a release incident or accident.

The Current and Future Workforce

The available data are insufficient to determine whether the supply of radiobiology researchers will be adequate to satisfy demand, and the information that is available is potentially complicated by a lessening of demand due to weak economic conditions and diminished support for research. Information suggests, however, that although the current supply may be meeting the demand, shortages could occur as the current workforce reaches retirement.

As already noted, DOE and its national laboratories are facing serious attrition of nuclear scientists and engineers and their capabilities through the effects of aging staff. In 2010, three-quarters of the radiological professionals within the DOE laboratories were eligible to retire (Wogman et al.,

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

TABLE 3-3 U.S. Sources of Funding for Radiation Health- and Biology-Related Research in Early 2013

Source /Website Topics
Government contracts FBO.gov Research on countermeasures; research on Mayak Techa River, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki cohorts; services for radiation monitoring
 
Government grants Grants.gov Fellowships, scholarships, and other education; biodosimetry; study of space radiobiology; food safety after a nuclear event
 
Governmentsponsored clinical trials ClinicalTrials.gov Exposure[s]: fluoroscopy, cosmic radiation, occupational radiation, computed tomographic (CT) examinations; protective devices; radiation injury Outcomes: cancer (lung, prostate, ovarian, brain, leukemia, breast, angiosarcoma, colorectal, liposarcoma, colon, testicular, neuroblastoma); behavior and cognitive performance disorders; chromosomal aberrations; renal insufficiency; wellbeing; immune function; meningococcal meningitis; aortic valve stenosis; cataracts and lens opacities; myeloid progenitor cells; coronary heart disease and vascular access complication
 
NIH research portfolio NIH Report report.nih.gov/index.aspx
 
Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs cdmrp.army.mil Predoctoral and postdoctoral training; idea development; new investigator and investigatorinitiated research One award to AFRRI in 2005 to study the carcinogenicity of embedded tungsten alloys in mice

SOURCES: DoD, 2013; FBO.gov, 2013; HHS, 2013; NIH, 2013a,b.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×
Sponsors Research Institutions
Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), NIAID, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), DOE, and NCI  
 
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), DOE, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Research Council (NRC), NASA, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture  
 
Various U.S. government agencies NIH Clinical Center; NCI; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); University of Aarhus, Aalborg University; NIOSH; Ministry of Health (France); Health Protection Agency (United Kingdom); Novartis Vaccines; Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire; Instituto de Cardiologia do Rio Grande do Sul; Group Health Cooperative; University of California, San Francisco; Baptist Health South Florida; Total Cardiovascular Solutions; Centre Oscar Lambret; CINECORS–Hospital Ernesto Dornelles
 
NIH AHRQ, FIC, NCI, NEI, NHLBI, NIA, NIAID, NIAMS, NIBB, NIDCR, NIDDK, NIEHS, NIGMS, NIMH, NIMHD, NINDS, NINR, NIOSH, NLMOD, VA with investigator affiliations at universities, forprofit companies, hospitals, medical schools, and university hospitals; other governmental agencies
 
DoD Yale; Virginia Commonwealth University; University of California, San Diego, and San Francisco; Cornell Medical College; University of Arizona; Stanford University
Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

2005). A 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report notes that this is a widespread problem in the federal civilian workforce that could produce mission-critical skill gaps if left unaddressed (GAO, 2014).

Figure 3-1 illustrates age distributions for the memberships of the HPS and AAPM professional associations who chose to provide this information. These distributions are both heavily skewed toward older members: in the HPS, more than 50% are 50 or older, and more than 80% are 40 or older; in the AAPM, more than one-third are 50 and older and nearly two-thirds are 40 or older. Further, this characteristic is becoming more pronounced with time. In 2000, 46% of HPS members were at least 50 years old. In 2005, that proportion rose to 53% and, in 2013, to 57%. The respective declines in the 30–39-year-old group were 18% to 15% to 14% (Hamrick, 2013). However, note that because age information is available for less than half of the HPS membership, these figures must be treated with caution.

No information was available on the changes in age distribution of the AAPM members over time. Additionally, it is unknown what percentage of members engage in research and what in other activities. Data reflecting the age distribution of the RRS members were not available.

Different interpretations of these age-distribution data are possible. One is that, in time, there is likely to be a deficit of radiation professionals across all specialties. This interpretation is consistent with the recent decline in U.S. students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula and the viewpoints of many federal and professional organizations (Martin, 2014). Another interpretation is that professional-society membership in general is on the decline; this trend has been experienced by many other professional societies as well (NCF, 2012; Putnam, 2000). It may thus be the case that millennial-generation radiobiology researchers,

images

FIGURE 3-1 Age distribution of the members of the AAPM (2013) and the HPS (2013).
NOTE: Percentages are based on available data: Age was reported by about 95% of the AAPM members and 41% of the HPS members. The RRS does not track members’ age groups.
SOURCES: Fairobent, 2013; Hamrick, 2013.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

health physicists, and medical physicists are simply not joining professional societies at the rates seen in previous generations. Therefore, using society-membership demographics to assess the pipeline of future researchers could be misleading.

More generally, the number of retiring society members cannot be directly linked to the number of graduating master’s and doctoral students in radiation-related disciplines because that connection assumes that graduates will become members and that individuals from other fields and educational backgrounds do not join these societies. But as described early in this chapter, radiobiology researchers come from a variety of disciplines.

Even though these data cannot describe a portion of the workforce that does not belong to professional societies and inferences are limited by available data, it is evident that the radiation health workforce is changing. This supports the sentiment of leaders in the field who note the inevitable aging of the radiology-researcher workforce and express concerns over the effects of projected retirements in the coming years (Hei, 2013).

SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING COMMENTS

Although it does not appear that an acute shortage of researchers in radiobiology and related disciplines exists currently, available information suggests that the number of professionals leaving the field through retirement and other means exceeds the number entering and that this trend will continue. Assuming a continuing need for radiobiology research, it is reasonable to conclude that the supply of professionals will not meet the demand in the coming years. When this committee completed its work, the NCRP was engaged in an effort to better characterize the magnitude of this problem and to offer recommendations for addressing it on a national level.

In Chapter 5, the committee provides recommendations for actions that AFRRI could undertake to help ensure that the military can meet its needs for radiobiology professionals.

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Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
×

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Suggested Citation:"3 The Radiobiology Workforce." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure: Opportunities for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18732.
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It is probably only a matter of time before we witness the next event in which large numbers of people are exposed to ionizing radiation. In the past, planning a response to such an occurrence would have likely focused on the management of casualties from high-dose exposure. However, more recently, a different threat has come to the fore: accidental (through a containment breach in a nuclear power plant, for example) or intentional (via a "dirty bomb") releases of radioactivity resulting in low-dose exposure to a population. The magnitude of the health risks arising from low-dose radiation exposure is uncertain, and this uncertainty has significant economic implications for public health decision making.

Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure examines recent scientific knowledge about the human effects of exposure to low-dose radiation from medical, occupational, and environmental ionizing-radiation sources. This report is intended to provide advice to the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) about its role in low-dose radiation health effects research. The report identifies current research directions in radiobiological science and assesses how AFRRI programs are advancing research along these directions. The recommendations of Research on Health Effects of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation Exposure will provide guidance for AFRRI to build on its strengths and advance its mission while contributing to the body of scientific knowledge on the health effects of exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation.

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