Having a portfolio career as a GP can be very appealing, as it enables you to focus on a specialist interest for part of your week, without the need to give up general practice.
As a GP with a Diploma in Occupational Medicine, and membership of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, Dr William Robertson explains what has led to a balanced and fulfilling career as a GP with a specialist interest within occupational medicine.
Whilst the focus of this article is on occupational medicine, the personal experience, insights, and advice shared can apply to any relevant subject - particularly that of occupational health.
What is occupational medicine?
Occupational medicine (previously referred to as industrial medicine) and also known as occupational health, is a medical specialty that focuses on the health and well-being of individuals in the workplace. Its primary goal is to prevent and manage work-related injuries, illnesses, and hazards while promoting the overall health and productivity of workers.
Occupational medicine specialists typically work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and corporate environments. They collaborate with employers, workers, and other healthcare professionals to promote a safe and healthy work environment while addressing the unique medical needs of individuals in the workforce.
Why choose occupational medicine?
One of the main benefits of occupational medicine is that it provides an equal blend of medicine and law, as well as the capacity to think laterally outside of the hospital. Seeking solutions for medical issues in workplaces can offer a good work-life balance, with the added opportunity to travel. If you are purely interested in a career in occupational medicine, joining a separate specialist training pathway is a great way to lead to a consultant qualification.
How to become an occupational health medicine doctor
To become an occupational health medicine doctor, medical professionals (national and international) must complete the Diploma in Occupational Medicine (DOccMed) which is a qualification for generalists and other medical practitioners working part-time in occupational medicine or with an interest in occupational medicine.
To qualify for the DOccMed certification, candidates must complete an approved DOccMed training course and complete both the MCQ and the Oral portfolio assessment within a 5-year period.
There are four places that are ratified to issue the diploma course. Mine was completed at the Royal Society of Public Health over two continuous weeks. Some courses are online only, while others offer a combination of distance and face to face learning, so delegates can choose the option most suited to their needs.
The course is suitable for general practitioners and doctors in other branches of medicine who would like to learn more about occupational medicine.
Strategies for completing the Diploma in Occupational Medicine (DOccMed)
On completion of the course, it’s a good idea to enter for the MCQ section of the exam (while the knowledge is still fresh in your mind). It’s also worthwhile getting some hands-on exposure to occupational medicine to help with getting a workplace assessment and patient case, both of which will enable you to complete the exam.
Contacting several companies with a request to shadow their Occupational Health Physician (OHP) is a good place to start. One of the OHPs that I’d been in contact with kindly agreed to me shadowing them to gain experience, which was an excellent source of knowledge and learning. I also contacted factories to understand their requirements for OHPs. I agreed that I would work for them following completion of my diploma if they would be happy to provide a patient and workplace assessment for the exam.
These strategies can be very effective, so be brave and contact the people and companies you are really interested in working with. Once you have your work setting agreed, you’ll need to allocate time to complete the case study essays for the patient and workplace assessment, then send it off and book onto a viva. Completing the viva is very straightforward, as it simply poses questions about your patient and workplace assessment to check that you were the one who submitted them.
The Society of Occupational Medicine
GPs may also consider becoming an official member of the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM). SOM is the UK organisation for all healthcare professionals working in or with an interest in occupational health.
SOM promotes interest and research in occupational medicine and works with a number of bodies including the government, healthcare community, health charities and others to promote a healthier workforce.
It also acts as the voice of occupational medicine, responding to consultative documents and media enquiries on issues affecting the speciality.
Furthermore, it's a national leader in providing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and education for all doctors and healthcare professionals working in occupational health, providing a forum for exchanging ideas, best practice and networking opportunities.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine
The Diploma of Occupational Medicine is issued by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM). FOM is the professional and educational body for occupational medicine in the United Kingdom. It seeks to ensure the highest standards in the practice of occupational medicine, overseeing the continuing professional development and revalidation of its members.
Completion of the FOM Diploma demonstrates that the holder has achieved competence as a generalist working in occupational medicine. For further information, visit: www.fom.ac.uk
Gaining employment as a GP with an occupational interest
It’s likely you’ll build a wide variety of contacts during your diploma course, exam and coursework, but, if you need more, you could start out by advertising your services on the society website or seek out the official discussion groups on social media.
After securing employment, you’ll need to update your indemnity provider and agree an invoicing process with an accountant. There are also other factors to consider such as whether there is a need to independently hire rooms, or whether clinical work can be performed in the workplace.
It’s beneficial to sharpen up on skills like audiometry and spirometry, which are more common in occupational medicine than they are for a GP in the NHS. These topics are covered briefly in the MCQ written exam, but as this kind of testing is very prevalent in the workplace, it’s worth investing more time in understanding them so you can appropriately advise employers.
Having the right equipment
You can be a world expert on interpreting spirometry, but first you need to be able to turn on and work your own machine. In this instance, an independent occupational medicine provider may consider investing in the following equipment: spirometer, calibration syringe and single-use Bacterial Viral Filter (BVF) mouthpieces.
Purchasing some extra medical equipment such as a grip strength dynamometer can also be worthwhile. The diploma doesn’t have an OSCE section, so while you may understand the theoretical applications of the equipment, it’s always useful to familiarise yourself with the physical product to reduce issues when using it for the first time on patients.
Building your experience
From this point, continue to do what health professionals have always done – gain and learn from experience. There will be work available, but the challenge might be in finding something that works for you within the lifestyle you wish to achieve and the time you have.
To give some insight, a typical working week might involve general practice from Monday through to Wednesday, before running a clinic at a chemical fertiliser plant on Thursday and having workplace certificates and medicals at my office on Friday. It keeps me well grounded in both worlds and has helped me to build relationships on both sides of the fence.
Occupational health training
Attending events with the Society and Faculty can help you to build CPD points and enhance your portfolio, plus there are further courses that will boost your expertise, such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
Amplivox offers several occupational health courses within audiometry, spirometry, and vision testing. These courses are accredited by a UK professional and educational body which supports good practice.
The courses combine both theoretical and practical sessions. Each course offers delegates a number of CPD points under the accredited programme and are suitable for varying levels of experience.
Hopefully, hearing about my experience has provided some useful insights into what it takes to become a GP with a specialist interest in occupational medicine and is helpful in setting you on your journey. For more information, please get in touch with either myself or a member of the Amplivox customer support team on +44 (0)1865 880 846 or email.
Faculty of Occupational Medicine
Royal Society of Public Health
Society of Occupational Medicine