Getting into Occupational Medicine - Ask an Occupational Physician
Updated: Feb 13
In this series of posts, I answer questions from medical students and doctors interested in getting into Occupational Medicine. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please feel free to put them in the comments below.
Q: What could a trainee do to improve their likelihood of securing an ST3 training post in industry? Are research, posters, publications etc given as much weight in industry as in the NHS?
A: Doctors going into ST3 in industry or the NHS must meet the same standards. The National School of Occupational Health (NSOH) periodically runs national recruitment exercises, which assess candidates' appointability to ST3 roles.If the candidate meets the standard, they will then be able to start in a GMC-approved industry training post. There is no post-matching for industry jobs - people have to apply to each job individually. The assessment process matches people to NHS jobs if that's the route they are going for.
If a candidate does not meet the minimum standard for ST3 training, they will not be deemed 'appointable' to a training post. They could still get a job in industry if a company employs them, but it won't be in an approved training post and they won't be on run-through training leading to accreditation as a consultant specialist. Health Education England provides a person specification against which candidates are assessed.
A broad CV is a strength in occupational medicine, and posters/publications will be useful though not essential. I would say that it's more important to show an interest in occupational medicine and to make it clear to assessors that you understand the specialty, what it involves and some of what makes OH unique. Organising a taster rotation in occupational medicine, shadowing in OH clinics and speaking to OH clinicians will all help you build your understanding of the specialty. If you're working in a hospital, see if you can arrange a chat with your occupational health department. It's not necessary to have published in OH to get into ST3. A CV commensurate with your experience and time in practice would be expected - as I started in Orthopaedics I had some publications because it was standard in that specialty to publish. If you were in a specialty where that wasn't the custom, a relative lack of papers wouldn't count against you. Being active in audit and other activities is always a benefit.
When it comes to getting an industry job, it tends to be less about posters and publications - the NHS assessment process has already reviewed that and deemed that you meet the standard. When going for industry jobs, an interest in the company, enthusiasm to learn about and contribute to organisational activity, and past OH experience (even if brief) will help.
When I started out in OH, I was advised to get an industry job first, then go to the NHS assessment. Because I didn't have any OH qualifications like DOccMed though, I thought it might be difficult to sell myself to potential employers - they'd be taking a risk if they employed me and I subsequently failed the NHS assessment. Because of this, I decided to do the NHS assessment first, get approved, then actively job-seek.
Your NHS 'approval' doesn't last indefinitely (NSOH would be able to advise how long), but I figured even if it expired, I'd be seen as a safe bet as, to an employer, if I passed the NHS assessment once and it had expired, there would be no reason why I wouldn't pass it again.
Some people do get DOccMed before getting an OH training job. This lets them work in the industry for a while, build up some experience, and decide if ST training is something they want to do. If their employer is already a GMC-approved trainer, passing the NHS assessment means they could (if their employer and the NSOH agrees) 'convert' their job to a training job and start at ST3. It's unlikely time spent before officially starting as a trainee would count towards training in this scenario.
I started in ST3 with no actual OH work experience but having spent a fair amount of time shadowing. It was clear I knew what I was getting into and I could talk at length about the types of cases I was seeing and how I felt they could be managed. After I started, my employer paid for me to go on the DOccMed course - it opened up work with certain clients who demanded it of doctors who did work for them. This broadened my clinical experience and benefited the company, as I was able to do more advanced work for them early in my career.
One of the key things about getting an industry job is networking. The best way to do this is to attend a few conferences, particularly with the FOM and the SOM. They are often very cheap or free to students and junior doctors, and there is no better way to get advice from a range of people in the specialty. At the first conference I went to I was invited to tour a JCB factory. From there I found myself visiting a Land Rover factory, and meeting someone who set up a visit to TfL - where I'm now working, years later. All this was great experience to discuss when I came to my first industry job interview.
Doctors in OH are generally extremely friendly and very willing to help keen students and doctors interested in the specialty! Knowing a few people means that when jobs do come up, you're already on people's radars and they'll get in touch to let you know.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) is the specialty's standard-setter and manages the exams and training curriculum. It offers free membership for students and Foundation doctors, so it's a great way to get plugged in to the specialty if you're interested, without any commitment. You can find out about FOM conferences and meetings from their website.
The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) is an organisation which promotes occupational health and is another great networking organisation. Student membership is heavily discounted and is worth considering. There are regional members groups which meet regularly, which would be very welcoming of students and junior doctors.
Many thanks to Mohammed Blaaza, medical student at UCL, for the question.