Other countries have taken advantage of the opportunities distance learning has to offer in the field of occupational health, so why have the UK academic institutions been so slow to follow suit? OH students deserve to be offered a better choice, by Nic Paton
Tap in the words "distance learning" and "occupational health" on an Internet search engine, and you'll be presented with an array of OH qualifications that can be gained from the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately, they tend to be from institutions such as East Carolina University, the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, or the University of Newcastle, Australia.
For the nurse looking for a UK qualification in occupational health and wanting to study by correspondence course or through distance learning, the options are limited. While universities in the US and other countries appear to have invested heavily in distance learning when it comes to teaching OH, their counterparts in the UK have by and large steered away from this mode of delivery.
The reasons for this are both practical and historical. Funding for occupational health within universities has historically been pretty negligible compared with other specialties. Setting up a distance learning course is, at least initially, considerably more expensive than putting in place conventional tutoring. Lily Lim, chair of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Educators Committee, estimates it can take months and as much as £500,000 to put a comprehensive distance learning package in place.
"You would need to sell a distance learning package over the Internet so you would have to have 24-hour support. If you are doing it with a lot of students then it can be economical, but many people do not want to dip their toes in," she says.
Lim is course leader for Middlesex University's BSc specialist practitioner qualification in occupational health and safety management. While she supports the principle of distance learning, she argues that, in practical terms, it can be harder for the student too.
"One of the benefits of meeting people in a classroom is that you develop a rapport and c