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What do Occupational Health Doctors do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Occupational health doctors are licensed physicians who specialize in treating patients with work-related illnesses or injuries. A professional combines his or her knowledge of general medicine with an understanding of the physical hazards that people may face at their jobs. Doctors work closely with nurses and occupational safety specialists to understand the risks involved in a workplace, and direct diagnoses and treatment accordingly. Most occupational health doctors operate their own practices, though some are employed by specific companies to monitor worksite conditions and immediately treat employees.

A significant portion of many occupational health doctors' jobs involves preventative medicine techniques, such as identifying potential work hazards and scheduling regular checkups with at-risk employees. A doctor might visit a worksite to perform a walkthrough of the facilities, analyzing the risks that workers may face. Such hazards may include excessive noise, polluted air, or dangerous machinery. Doctors also analyze the number of hours that employees are asked to work to consider the affects of stress and tiredness on their health. By meeting with workers regularly, doctors can monitor changes in their health conditions and determine the best ways to prevent illness and injury.

Occupational health doctors also work in private offices, seeing patients on an appointment basis. They apply their understanding of human health as well as their specialized knowledge of workplace hazards to diagnose medical problems. Some work with very specific populations, such as coal miners, in order to provide the best possible care. A doctor who treats miners is familiar with the potential for lung damage from inhaling dust particles, as well as the general unsafeness of large mining equipment. He or she might have specialized medical equipment to monitor lung capacity and track the progress of long-term lung problems.

In most countries, people who want to become occupational health doctors are required to obtain advanced degrees from accredited universities. Most medical school programs include at least four years of postgraduate coursework, and culminate in Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees. After graduation, new doctors are typically required to complete one- to two-year internships in general hospitals, followed by up to six-year residencies. The last few years of a residency may be completed at an established occupational health doctor's practice, so that a new physician can become familiar with the specifics of the job. After gaining experience as a resident and passing all applicable licensing exams, a doctor can begin treating patients independently.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1000718 — On Nov 30, 2018

The doctors at a popular occupational health/urgent care centers are there mainly to keep people off worker's compensation. The company is paid by the employers, so the patient is not the concern.

The two doctors I actually worked with had a cynical attitude and were very much into shoving people in and out of the exam rooms at top speed. I had to doubt they had much skill, to be honest. No one is ever given time off, no matter what the work related injury. They are given work restrictions and returned to work.

The companies often require the worker to go to the occupational health center where they have a contract. It isn't because they are concerned about the workers. They just don't want to get sued. Be aware if you have to go to one. The care is likely to be less than other Urgent Cares or family practice offices.

By anon997460 — On Jan 10, 2017

My husband recently went to an Occupational Doctor. For 3 1/2 hours, this doctor poked on him and kept asking him now how did you get hurt. He was more like someone to try and say my husband didn't get hurt at work. He pulled on his arm so much that the pain was making my husband sick. How was this supposed to help his arm and shoulder?

By anon350277 — On Oct 03, 2013

How often can I be asked to visit the occupational health doctor? I have been off sick and seeing psychiatrist for months a on a weekly basis and I am asked to go to occupational health every six weeks?

By claire24 — On Feb 17, 2011

I think it's great that occupational health physicians actually visit workplaces to help ensure that employees have a safe environment to work in.

To be honest, I wouldn't want to work in a place that required a doctor to visit for these reasons, because it means that there is a potential risk involved with the job. But a lot of people do work under those conditions, and I'm glad that there are doctors looking out for them.

By heath925 — On Feb 15, 2011

I had no idea that there was a whole separate field dedicated to treating medical conditions that are related to the workplace. I always thought that if you had a work related injury, you would just go to your regular doctor.

Do employers help you find a doctor to go to, if you have a work-related condition?

By aksati — On Oct 16, 2010

The OH physician does a host of activities, especially if employed by a company. The most important function of an OH physician is to develop measures by which employee health is protected from the hazards at work. This is achieved by developing HRA (Health Risk Assessment) for each job type ably assisted by Safety and Industrial Hygiene professionals.

The OH physician also ensures fitness of the employees by conducting medical check-ups of those at high-risk. Health education, rehab, emergency preparedness, etc., are also functions of an OH. Dr. Ajay S.

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