Occupational and environmental medicine is perhaps the most wide-ranging of all medical specialties. It is the medical specialty devoted to the prevention and management of occupational and environmental injury, illness and disability, and promotion of health and productivity of workers, their families and communities.
Today, the complexity and pervasiveness of modern industrial processes afford occupational and environmental medicine physicians the opportunity to address work-site and environmental concerns and such community health and policy issues as atmospheric pollution, product safety, health promotion and benefits value management.
The term “environmental medicine” has also recently been used to describe this growing, challenging, modern medical specialty. Environmental medicine addresses the impact of chemical and physical stressors on individuals and groups. Both occupational and environmental medicine use similar skills and focus on the recognition and prevention of hazardous exposures.
The health of the US workforce is central to the nation’s overall prosperity, stability and security. More than 130 million Americans spend most of their waking hours either at the workplace or connected to it. Their health status determines everything from our national productivity on the global stage to the long-term stability of programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
As the workplace has evolved and changed, employers increasingly make the connection between good health and the overall success of their enterprises. The demand for physicians trained in the complex interplay of factors that affect worker health has grown significantly.
As highly trained specialists, occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) physicians enhance the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research and education. Careers include academia, corporate, hospital-based and private clinics, federal and local government, and the military.
In the past, occupational medicine physicians were primarily reactive to the injuries and exposures that occurred in the workplace. Workers who became sick or were injured came to the work-site clinic. Now the role of the OEM physician has changed. As disease prevention and wellness have become a greater part of the health care equation, occupational and environmental medicine has expanded its scope, contributing scientific research, new clinical guidelines for medical care, and public health programming aimed at the workforce and the health of the environment as well as direct patient care.
OEM physicians use the tools of preventive medicine (primary, secondary and tertiary) to improve the health of a defined population of workers and their families, and they are trained in the complex return- to-work process, an advanced system of health monitoring that optimizes the time in which ill or injured workers can safely return to work.
Most importantly, occupational physicians are at the center of virtually all health-related transactional activities in the workplace. They serve as an important liaison between employer, employee, government and all components of the health care system—understanding the needs and challenges of each of these diverse groups.
A career in occupational and environmental medicine offers the following benefits:
OEM is intellectually challenging.
OEM physicians impact populations and costs by preventing disease and injury.
OEM physicians work in diverse practice settings.
Occupational and environmental medicine offers a balance of clinical and administrative work.
OEM physicians practice cost-effective care.
OEM physicians enjoy a good quality of life including working regular business hours full or part time with no call and making a starting salary of $180,000 to $220,000 per year.
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is the nation’s largest organization representing the voice of physicians who practice occupational and environmental medicine.