You’re an Occupational WHAT? Occupational and Environmental Physician
It is not often when I see patients for the first time that when I ask them if they have heard of an occupational and environmental physician that they say ‘yes’. In fact, when they do say ‘yes’, it is usually an indicator that they have been involved in protracted workers’ compensation processes. Or, alternatively, they have misunderstood what I’ve asked, and think that I am an occupational therapist.
So, having said that, what is an occupational and environmental physician?
If you think of a cardiologist, they are a specialist doctor who advises people about the management of conditions to do with their heart. An occupational and environmental physician is a consultant specialist doctor who advises people on how their work can affect their health, and how their health can affect their ability to work safely.
This is the role in a nutshell, but it incorporates so many facets.
Occupational and environmental physicians (OEPs) are experts on injury management – covering prevention, management, RTW, assessing fitness for work and assessing ongoing impairment. They are experts on safe levels of exposures to chemicals and hazardous substances, both at work and in the community. And that’s where the ‘Environmental’ component of the specialty comes into play.
To further confuse the matter, many people in the workers' compensation space know us occupational physicians, however, the correct title for an occupational physician is actually an ‘Occupational and Environmental Physician’, though we often use the title ‘OP’ to keep it simple. We hold a Fellowship with the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
Semantics aside, what do we actually do?
Take a look at the following video which I will use as an attempt at a metaphor.
"An Occupational and Environmental Physician is a consultant specialist doctor who advises people on how their work can affect their health, and how their health can affect their ability to work safely."
See how much easier it is to appreciate a situation more completely when you sit back and take in the entire picture?
All of those things that we each missed when we were focussed on one particular aspect (the detective in the video and what he was saying) become apparent when you can see the situation in its entirety.
That is what an Occupational Physician does. They take into consideration more than just what is directly in their focus, but stepping back and assessing the individual, their environment, the mechanism of an incident, and the evidence base to assess the likely causation of an individual’s injury or illness, and determine the best way to manage the situation to maintain the health and safety of the individual.