Understanding careers in occupational health

Occupational health can offer a huge variety of career and development routes and opportunities. The Society of Occupational Medicine is this month publishing a careers guide to help new, would-be and even experienced practitioners navigate the profession more effectively, explains Jane Edbrooke.

Occupational health, as OH practitioners will know only too well, is a very rewarding career – helping to advise on the effects of work on health and health on work.

The work of an OH professional is varied, everything from assessing the fitness of employees to undertake specific tasks, through to engaging with organisations to assess the effectiveness of OH service delivery, through to looking for ways to bridge gaps between business needs and OH provision.

About the author

Jane Edbrooke is head of policy at the Society of Occupational Medicine

It can also bring with it the job satisfaction of working across many different businesses and environments, as well as knowing that what you’re doing is going to make a real difference to people in terms of their health at work and even their ability to stay in work.

Our research at the Society of Occupational Medicine has highlighted the ongoing value of occupational health to individuals, to employers, to productivity and the bottom line.

Another positive is that occupational health can offer better work-life balance than many roles in today’s hard-pressed health sector as well as the opportunity at least to have some autonomy in what you do, especially if you decide to establish your own OH business or consultancy.

Finally, by and large, the career prospects in OH remain good. Health and wellbeing is something increasingly on the radar of many employers yet, at the same time, there is a shortage of professionals in the field.

Nevertheless, understanding the different roles, options and opportunities available to you as an OH professional are not always straightforward. This is not only the case if/when you’re looking to start out within the profession but also as you progress and develop within occupational health.

To that end, the society has created a document Careers in Occupational Health to link into the SOM Occupational Health Jobs and Career Day taking place later this month, on 24 September.

The full document will be available online (on the SOM website) from the middle of September. It will include details of courses taking place, and where funding is available. But it is also intended to work as a handy guide to anyone looking to understand, and navigate, the different career and training options available in our increasingly multi-disciplinary occupational health world.

What follows is a snapshot of the sort of content within the document. Some of this will undoubtedly be familiar to more experienced OH practitioners but, as a new industry resource, we hope it will nevertheless be valuable, whatever point you are at (or wish to be at) in your career as an OH professional.

Occupational health doctors

Medical practitioners who have an interest in occupational medicine might initially wish to complete a diploma in occupational medicine.

This is designed for doctors who are working part-time in occupational medicine or who have an interest in occupational medicine.

There are a number of providers of this diploma, including East Kent University Hospital Foundation Trust, the Royal Society for Public Health, and Birmingham University.

To qualify as a specialist in occupational medicine, doctors need to register with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and undertake a speciality training programme approved by the General Medical Council (GMC). Once completed, this makes doctors eligible both for Membership of the Faculty (MFOM) and for entry to the GMC Specialist Register.

An alternative route to becoming a specialist is through a Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR) application to the GMC. Doctors who have applied successfully through CESR to join the GMC Specialist Register, are eligible to apply for Membership of the Faculty.

The Society of Occupational Medicine has a support group (contact SOM for details) for people going through this process.

Occupational health nurses

Occupational health nurses are probably the biggest professional group in the specialty. As many readers of Occupational Health & Wellbeing will undoubtedly be aware, the entry point for many OH nurses is to go in at RN level and many work their way up from there, learning and gaining qualifications on the way.

Current educational requirements are that you will need registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. You’ll then ideally take an NMC-approved course in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (SCPHN). These courses take one-year full time, or two years part-time.

Occupational health physiotherapists

Occupational health physiotherapists provide treatment and rehabilitation for work-relevant injuries, which can be provided on-site or in an offsite treatment centre. They also plan return to work, educate about injury prevention in the workplace, carry out health promotion, job task analysis and advice on modifications, and have specialist knowledge of manual handling and physical ergonomics in the workplace.

Short courses to develop skills in this area are run by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE), among others.

Occupational health psychologists

Occupational health psychology is the application of the science of psychology to work. Occupational health psychologists are crucial in high-stress workplaces, in particular.

Occupational health psychologists use psychological theories and approaches to deliver tangible benefits by enhancing the effectiveness of organisations and developing the performance, motivation and wellbeing of people in the workplace.

There are a wide range of courses highlighted in the Careers in Occupational Health document. But it is also worth checking out the courses listed on the British Psychological Society’s website. For example, there are conversion courses run at King’s College and Birkbeck in London, plus at the University of Nottingham.

Occupational health technicians

Occupational health technicians work as part of a team, often under the supervision of occupational health nurses and advisers.

They will often be responsible for health surveillance clinics, including testing spirometry, audiology and vision. The role may expand to involve blood pressure monitoring, phlebotomy, cholesterol and urine testing.

This role involves working on your own initiative and may include site visits. OH technicians should receive training from employers and be assessed as competent to, amongst other tasks:

  • measure blood pressure, pulse, height and weight, including BMI;
  • do urinalysis;
  • interpret new starter questionnaires;
  • do audiometry;
  • measure visual acuity to occupational standard;
  • measure colour vision to occupational standard;
  • do lung-function testing to include peak flow and spirometry; and
  • assess mobility

The Society of Occupational Medicine has a special interest group of OH technicians working to develop specific courses in this area. More information can be obtained from SOM chief executive Nick Pahl on nick.pahl@som.org.uk

One Response to Understanding careers in occupational health

  1. Nick Pahl 7 Sep 2018 at 11:50 am #

    take a look at this new Youtube of occupational health colleagues talking about their career in occupational health:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx-PTSbECnU&t=1s.

    It has a variety of OH professionals, talking about their OH career.

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