Occupational medicine physicians work to provide the safest work environment for employees, providing care across a broad spectrum, enhancing and encouraging best practices among various industries.

About Occupational Medicine

Occupational medicine is an area of medicine that works to identify, diagnose, prevent and treat a wide variety of illnesses, diseases and injuries that arise out of, or affect one’s ability to perform in, the workplace. Occupational medicine may also be known as occupational health, and is practiced by occupational medicine specialists or physicians. Doctors practicing occupational health are trained and educated to diagnose and treat various sicknesses by studying the patient’s medical history, working environment and the conditions in which the patient is employed. By looking at all of these factors, the physician is able to diagnose and treat any illnesses or injuries that have occurred as a result of working conditions. If a patient must be removed from the workplace for any period of time, the occupational health specialist will treat the patient and determine whether or not the patient is fit to return to work.

When treating for injuries or illnesses that are a result of, or exacerbated by, a patient’s working conditions, occupational health physicians will perform a physical examination, and in some cases will visit the patient’s workplace. When examining the workplace, the physician will make note of any possible contributing factors or other hazards that may be negatively affecting the patient. After analyzing the patient’s condition, workplace and medical history, the physician may make a diagnosis or begin treatment. Each treatment or management plan will be specific to the needs and situation of the patient, and will be highly personalized. For example, a patient who fractured their ankle on the job may be placed in a cast before receiving physical medicine & rehabilitation specialists; if the injury was a result of a hazard of the workplace, the physician may offer suggestions on how to better mitigate future injuries that may result from that specific hazard.

Physicians that practice occupational medicine are licensed medical doctors (MDs) that have additional knowledge and training in the various hazardous occupational environments. Furthermore, some occupational physicians may specialize in a certain area, such as flight medicine. Occupational health physicians may work in a variety of different settings: as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a corporation or business, an educational or research institution, or as part of a private practice that may or may not specialize in occupational medicine. Occupational health physicians often work with corporations or other entities to provide preventive medicine and measures, ensuring that safe and effective working conditions and procedures are in place.

Occupational Medicine Education & Training

Physicians who practice occupational medicine complete a rigorous and demanding program of study. After completing a four year undergraduate degree, the student must complete four years of medical school. During medical school, the student will complete classroom, laboratory and clinical based training and instruction. Following graduation from medical school with an MD or DO degree, a three year residency program in occupational medicine is required.

During the residency program, the physician will generally complete one year of clinical training in family medicine or internal medicine, or a similar field. The last two years are often spent completing a practicum with a government agency, research organization or another residency program. Following completion of the occupational medicine residency, the physician must complete additional post-graduate training to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Health.

During this program, the physician will be trained in areas related to public health, such as environmental health, biostatistics, epidemiology, management sciences, policy and problem solving, public health biology, and social and behavioral sciences, among others. Following completion of the public health degree, the physician will seek licensure and will often pursue board certification from the American Board of Preventive Medicine.