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No. 20 – The Health Physicist as Instructor

March 9, 2011

One of the primary roles of a health physicist or Radiation Safety Officer is that of an instructor. All new workers are normally provided instruction in radiation fundamentals prior to beginning work where they may be exposed to radiation. This instruction usually includes a review of atomic structure and radioactivity, biological effects of radiation, radiation risks, and radiation standards, etc. Often these new workers are not thrilled with the idea of learning atomic physics. Many have either not had training in science or it was not their favorite subject. They still carry impressions that science (especially physics) is difficult, abstract, and conceptual, and science teachers are dull, boring, and hard to understand. When these new workers with science phobias come to your class on radiation they expect it to be painful and something to be endured as a necessary part of employment.

Overcoming Resistance

One way to deal with worker’s apprehension about learning radiation science is with humor. I like to tell classes that it is OK to have fun while we are learning. Since these workers often wish they were somewhere else, I like to ask if this class is their first choice on what to do today. This usually brings smiles when the class realizes that the instructor knows their secret wish. A humorous story is helpful at this point. Laughter does wonders to overcome resistance. Especially, when the laughter is about us. I like to use myself as the focus of humor by suggesting that I am a weird scientist who speaks a strange language called radiation science. It is important that the class see the instructor as a real person with a sense of humor and practical common sense. I have found that maintaining rapport requires a bridge building activity about every 5 to 10 minutes.

Learning by Discovery

The other way to overcome resistance is to get the class involved in the learning process. Learning occurs when a student is able to connect new information to information or an experience that they already have. The effective instructor uses a variety of analogies, illustrations, demonstrations, stories, anecdotes, and real life experiences to provide students with several options to connect the new information to what they already know. This means that radiation science is not presented as abstract concepts, but by demonstration in a “show-and-tell” approach. Most people learn from direct experience based on what they see or do themselves. For example, rather than just talking about radiation instruments, take a survey meter apart and pass it around the class.

  1. Jean Staton permalink

    I teach the 40 hr. radiation safety class for industrial radiography and I do the try to teach the same way you have mentioned. It is boring when we get into the physics but by showing and telling stories and adding humor we participate as a group. Like you I pass a survey meter around, have them take it apart and put it back together. I have them participate and make it interesting. Also the students are so afraid of the math but by showing the easiest way and making sense of it that by the end of the class they wonder why they were so apprehensive. You have to work “with” the class not just stand up there and in a monotone voice teach from a book. I am so glad there are others that like to teach and really want the students to learn. Thank you

    • I like the approach that you describe. Your classes sound interesting and informative at the same time. In my “Train-the-Trainer” classes I ask my students to recall the qualities of their favorite teacher and here is what every class comes up with:
      Very knowledgeable
      Able to explain for easy understanding
      High level of enthusiasm
      High regard for students and their ability to learn
      Gave attention to each person
      Made learning fun.

      I then ask my students if there are any of these qualities which they could not do?

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