Lifelong learning for occupational health professionals

Lifelong learning is a term that is widely used in a variety of contexts, but its meaning is often unclear. The term recognises that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom, but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations.

Over the past 50 years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change have had a profound effect on learning needs and styles. Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace). It is not just confined to the classroom. We all learn something new every day – often without even realising it. And we learn in many ways.

Hopefully the preceding articles in this series have helped point out some issues and made you think about your VIP (Visible, Informed, Positive) status. The words ‘grandmother’ ‘teach’ ‘suck’ and ‘eggs’ might spring to mind, but it is worth reiterating what has been said in previous articles:

  • Presentation skills – are you confident in your presentation skills? Watch what other people do – learn from their skills.

  • Communication – how well do you communicate? How do other people communicate with you?

  • Business plans – a skill in itself.

  • Writing and responding to tenders – ask for examples and read books on the subject.

  • Mentoring – can you mentor someone? Do you need a mentor?

OH groups

By attending an OH group, not only do you get the chance to talk with like-minded professionals, but you learn about what is happening in the world of OH. Most go out of their way to book speakers on a variety of relevant topics.

Unfortunately, groups are not very well attended these days, and some have had to disband. We all lead busy lives, but surely we can find the time to educate ourselves? Attendance at these groups gives you points towards CPD (continuing professional development).

A list of groups is available on page 40. If there isn’t one in your area, set one up. They can provide you with a wealth of information and support in what can sometimes be a very lonely job. If you are a lone OH worker, then attending a group is invaluable not only for the networking opportunities, but also for the knowledge that is gained there.


There is a whole wealth of information on the internet. Do you subscribe to Jiscmail? This is an open forum for OH professionals and is well used by practitioners asking for help and advice from colleagues. A lot of OH suppliers and groups also have their own websites with information that may be of use to you.


Most of you will be members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and/or the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (AOHNP). Again, these bodies can provide you with a wealth of information and help. The AOHNP has a good website – – with information for members. The RCN is committed to lifelong learning, and has launched a service specifically for this. The website is very comprehensive and on it you will find library services and archives; publications and research; together with details of relevant OH links.

Working environment

Do you use OH computer software? If so, are you getting the most out of it (see the feature on page 22-24)? Do you know the shortcuts available, or who you can report on? Do you know what statistics the system can provide? Do you know what ‘new’ items are available to enable you to speed up processes? Are you utilising such things as online pre-employment, management referrals, and health questionnaires? Can you send appointment reminders by text? If not, then ask your supplier to help you. What other equipment do you have? What else can help you with your job? What can you learn about your company? And what can you learn that could assist your company?

Study days

Study days are organised around the UK by suppliers and many local OH groups. They can cover a specific topic or a variety of topics. If you are finding that the study days are no longer relevant and are not teaching you what you want to know then speak to the organisers and ask them to arrange something that is more specific to what you want.

Talk to your suppliers of medical supplies, software, and health screening equipment and ask them if they will organise an event on your behalf. Some fields within OH are lucky enough to have their own industry-specific groups. If the study days are not meeting your needs then how about putting yourself forward as a speaker? It is good practice for your presentation and communication skills.

In the current economic climate, OH will be needed more than ever, and will achieve higher recognition, so your VIP status should be easily attained. But it is down to you to continue to learn, evolve and support all aspects of occupational health. Hopefully, at least once a day you will think to yourself: “I didn’t know that.”

Caroline Minshell is regional health director at BP. Christina Butterworth is the former chair of the RCN Managers Forum. Jo Henderson is cohort account manager at Tempus Software.


1 Aspin, David N. (2007) ‘Lifelong Learning Concepts and Conceptions’ In Philosophical Perspectives on Lifelong Learning, Springer, Netherlands, ISBN 1402061927

2 Fischer, G (2000) ‘Lifelong Learning – More than Training’ Journal of Interactive Learning Research, V11 N3 pp265-294

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