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Occupational health is antidote to GP work

A diploma in occupational health gave Dr Tim Peacock a range of new skills

For a GP adding occupational medicine to their CV offers a rewarding parallel experience where skills can be used across both disciplines.Our natural GP communication skills help when dealing with both management and employees. Occupational health work benefits from our general knowledge of ailments, which in turn is enhanced by our occupational health training and our experiences.Additionally, combining a knowledge of general practice and workplace processes with employment law can be of immense value in helping your own patients with work related issues.My background in occupational medicine began soon after qualification. By chance the practice I joined at the beginning of my general practice career had offered its services to local factories for many years. We would visit the sites regularly to see employees with health related problems. Much of the work was simply reactive advice with little proactive preventative work.Shortly after joining, the then senior partner and main occupational medical practitioner retired and the whole portfolio was handed to me.Further qualification
I carried on unguided for several years and finally realised that I needed a firmer footing. So I sought out a further qualification.The Diploma in Occupational Health offered me skills in risk assessment and legislation, and brushed up others in areas such as ethics, communicating with managers and clinical knowledge.While it can be done through distance learning, I chose to attend for motivation and interaction with other students. The course ran in Birmingham for 13 days (two blocks of five and one of three days).All in all, with the exam, it took me about 10 months to complete, and with course, exam fees, travel, accommodation and book costs, the cost was around £2,500.This fee is easily recouped. Since qualifying, I have been able to practice in a completely different setting to my normal work, including working in my local NHS occupational health department (a bit like a busman’s holiday).I enjoy the variety of working for local businesses ranging from ice cream wafer manufacturers to electronics production to a couple of picking and packing operations. I also lecture on the Birmingham course that I attended.With an occupational health  qualification you can offer your services to local companies. Try ones that approach your practice for medical reports on your patients without any obvious help from an intermediary medic. I have found that a direct approach is often successful, emphasising your skills in interpreting medical information and providing advice on capability.You can also offer your services to larger occupational health agencies and some larger companies employ their own stable of occupational health doctors spread out over a large geographical area.In this line of work you do operate alone. However, providing you stay within the limits of your skills and knowledge you will be fine. There is no established route of secondary referral, but course attendance will allow you to network. Consultant occupational health referral is rare although NHS consultants can be helpful, particularly in areas such as respiratory medicine and dermatology.

Occupational health work  takes up between one and two sessions of my time and keeps me sane the rest of the week.

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