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.