Occupational and environmental medicine is a specialty pathway undertaken through the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP). The role involves advising people on how various aspects of their jobs can affect their health and providing advice aimed at avoiding negative health impacts that may otherwise hamper an individual’s ability to work safely and productively.
As an occupational physician, you will require an understanding of the unique characteristics of different businesses or organisations that might impact worker health and to provide practical solutions and policies tailored to unique workplace settings.
Occupational and environmental medicine is a non-hospital based career with varying work such as consultancy, working for occupational medicine companies, working in the industrial sector, working with Workcover or insurance companies, expert witness work or medico-legal work.
Aspects of the job may include:
- Rehabilitation and assisting people returning to work
- Workplace research and analysis
- Diagnosing and treating workplace related illness or injury
- Providing advice to workers and employers regarding changes
- Developing policies that safeguard or improve health and safety
- Assessing individuals’ physical or mental capacity to work in certain roles.
It’s 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. There is no blood, there are no smells or body fluids and it allows you to deal with the best parts of all the disciplines in medicine with something new and different every single day.
Occupational physicians also deal with other areas that are less commonly known such as health surveillance, outbreaks – COVID-19 is a very good example of this. People that deal with opening and closing businesses, how do you manage this considering the current COVID situation we’re dealing with. Outbreaks in workplaces and how do you deal with that so it is contained.
There’s a vast array of different services that occupational physicians provide so the world is really your oyster!
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What is the work-life balance like?
Occupational and environmental medicine is a career that involves:
- High level of communication skills
- Good written skills as you’ll be required to do report writing
- An interest in the health impacts on workers in different industries
- Mixture of clinical and non-clinical work
- Ability to work in the private sector, business ownership and consultancy
- An interest in medico-legal requirements specifically around worker’s health and safety
- Limited after hours or on call commitments
- Focused clinical examinations which have guidelines and policies dictating what is required so would suit someone who likes to follow checklists and guidelines
- Repetitive pre-employment medicals
- Following guidelines
- Policy and guideline development.
Training to become an occupational and environmental physician is facilitated through the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP). Training occurs in accredited training positions and more information can be found here.
It is recommended you reach PGY4 or PGY5 before applying for the training program so you have time to get a good breadth and understanding of what could walk through your door as an occupational physician because it can vary immensely, and you need to be comfortable handling this. Your previous experience should include different surgical and medical specialties.
As there are no intern or resident rotations in occupational and environmental health, to get exposure you can make yourself known to the occupational physician in the hospital where you’re currently working. You can also approach occupational physicians in private practices for work experience or get a role as an unaccredited registrar in a private practice to gather experience. Alternatively contact the faculty – there’s a director of training in every state and they’ll be more than happy to help you.
Occupational and environmental medicine training takes place privately because there are very few places in the public system. It’s four years of training split up into three stages.
Stage A is approximately 12 to 18 months in length culminating in an exam similar to the Basic Physicians Part 1 exam.
Stage B, which is also the secondary entry point if you have a fellowship from the College of General Practitioners, lasts from 18 months to two years. This is where you will develop your skills and understanding of occupational and environmental medicine including completion of a Postgraduate Diploma in Occupational and Environmental Medicine (this can be done through several universities including Curtin University and Monash University). This stage also culminates in exams, both written and clinical.
Stage C is about honing your skills as a consultant, working on your medical legal writing, general assessments, working with clients in terms of their sites and hazards and risks and working with clients’ workers.
Where can you get exposure to occupational and environmental medicine?
Which PGY year do you usually get into training?
Training overview of occupational and environmental medicine
Most occupational and environmental physicians work in the private sector, where you could be the consultant occupational physician to a large mining company, an oil and gas company, airline or a government utility such as the Public Transport Authority.
N.B. Career prospects are dependent on both the supply of specialists and the projected future demand for services provided by medical specialists (including general practitioners). The complex interplay of supply and demand is currently being modelled at both a state and national level and will be included when it's available.