Occupational Medicine Doctor: Your Workplace Health & Safety Expert
What is an occupational medicine doctor?
An occupational medicine doctor specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating injuries, illnesses, and harmful exposures in workers. Occupational medicine doctors promote wellness among workers and manage occupational disability. An occupational medicine doctor may work as a clinician with patients, as a researcher or educator, or in a combination of roles to ensure a healthy workforce and a safe work environment.
An occupational medicine doctor encourages a healthy workforce through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research, and education. To this end, an occupational medicine doctor typically:
Ensures employees comply with health and safety regulations
Reduces workplace hazards
Performs ergonomic assessments to prevent injury and disability among workers
Performs tests to determine an employee's physical and emotional fitness for work or ability to return to work
Provides medical care to patients who are injured while working
Provides immunizations and other preventive health services
Conducts epidemiological and statistical research to assess health trends among a workforce
An occupational medicine doctor may also be known by the following names: occupational and environmental medicine doctor, occupational doctor, occupational health provider, and industrial medicine doctor.
Who should see an occupational medicine doctor?
Employers consult with occupational medicine doctors to keep their employees healthy and productive and minimize disability costs. Employees may seek care from an occupational medicine doctor if they experience a work-related injury, exposure or illness, or if they think they may be at risk of a work-related injury or illness. Occupational medicine doctors treat a variety of illnesses and injuries and refer patients to other specialists when necessary.
When should you see an occupational medicine doctor?
You should consider seeking care, or your employer may require you to seek care, from an occupational medicine doctor under the following circumstances:
You have been injured on the job including both acute injuries and repetitive stress injuries.
You have been exposed to a chemical, radiation, or other hazardous substance on the job.
You become sick or are having health problems while on the job.
You need to be fitted for specialized safety equipment such as a respirator.
Your employer requires you to participate in a risk control program such as drug testing.
Your employer requires you to pass a physical exam prior to employment, as a part of ongoing employment, or in order to return to work.
Your employer offers you immunizations and other preventive health or wellness programs.
What conditions and diseases does an occupational medicine doctor treat?
An occupational medicine doctor treats work-related injuries, illnesses and exposures including:
Harmful chemical and hazardous substance exposure including asbestos, pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals
Injuries that are not life-threatening or don’t endanger a limb including cuts, burns, eye injuries, sprains, strains, and fractures. An emergency medicine doctor treats life-threatening injuries and injuries that could involve loss of an arm or leg.
Sensory problems including hearing and vision loss
Stress including overexertion; chronic fatigue; and sleep disorders, such as shift work sleep disorder
What tests does an occupational medicine doctor perform or order?
An occupational medicine doctor can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:
Blood tests including complete blood count (CBC), blood glucose (sugar), cholesterol panels, liver and kidney function tests, and testing for infectious diseases
Drug and alcohol testing including urine, saliva and blood testing
General health tests including vision and hearing tests, urinalysis, blood pressure and vital sign screening, lung function testing, colon cancer screening, tuberculosis skin test, and electrocardiogram (EKG, or ECG)
Imaging studies including X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans
Physical abilities testing including grip strength, static push and pull strength, lifting at specified heights and frequencies, and ability to carry
What procedures and treatments does an occupational medicine doctor perform or order?
Occupational medicine doctors order or perform various procedures and treatments to prevent or manage work-related health conditions. If an illness or injury is severe or requires specialized care, an occupational medicine doctor can refer you to another medical specialist. Common procedures and treatments include:
Physical exams including pre-placement, executive, fitness-for-duty, employee wellness, and baseline and periodic regulatory and compliance exams
Injury treatment including stitches, care of broken bones and sprains, and physical therapy and rehabilitation
Personal protective equipment provision including respirators, hardhats, eye protection, earplugs, and body suits
Wellness programs including screenings for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes-related complications, stress, and mental illness
Occupational medicine doctor training and certification
A doctor may practice occupational medicine without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the occupational medicine and has passed a competency examination.
A board-certified occupational medicine doctor has earned certification in occupational medicine by the American Board of Preventive Medicine or the American Osteopathic Board of Preventive Medicine.
A board-certified occupational medicine doctor has:
Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree
Completed specialized residency training in occupational medicine
Completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) or equivalent degree
Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor's specialized knowledge and skills in occupational medicine
To maintain board certification in occupational medicine, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.
Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to choose your own occupational medicine doctor or you may be required to see your employer’s designated provider. Be sure to check with your employer’s human resources department or your state worker’s compensation program before choosing your own occupational medicine doctor. Failure to follow your state’s guidelines could mean you will be responsible for your own medical expenses.