• Paul McGovern

Working abroad in OH - Ask an Occupational Physician

Updated: Feb 14

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: If your work as an occupational health doctor pertains to the specific employment laws of one country (the U.K.) does this mean you have less flexibility to practice abroad as a consultant?

A: In most medical specialties, your ability to work depends on your license. If you want to work in Dubai, being a UK trained and qualified consultant with 2 years under your belt should suffice (once you've applied for and been accepted to a job). If you want to work in the US, you'd need to take local licensing exams. The rules vary by country.

Things are a bit different for a consultant in occupational medicine. Strategic roles tend to be less about direct patient contact and more about interfacing with the business and external organisations. For multinational companies, even when based in the UK, there's likely to be a strong international component of the work which will involve liaising with colleagues abroad, building and implementing policies which work for the company while respecting and complying with local regulations and customs.

In short, if you're competent and have relevant experience, there are excellent opportunities for working abroad in occupational health. While laws may be different, underlying principles you'll have learned in your training will still apply. You'd be expected to familiarise yourself with your new country's legislative framework of course - but doing so isn't that difficult once you have an understanding of how health systems work. It's also important to work with local colleagues who will have great experience and will be able to support you in any move.

We often forget that England/Wales and Scotland have two different legal systems. There are of course commonalities in much of the legislation, and GMC guidelines apply equally on either side of the border. But adapting to different legal environments is just one of the many changes doctors have to make all the time, when implementing new clinical guidelines, updating their understanding of disease as new research comes out, and working in new places.

Occupational medicine consultants can have truly global careers, and many do. As with many things, options open up when you have a certain level of seniority and experience. A possible career path might be for a consultant to get a job at an international organisation, with a responsibility for health and wellbeing in locations outside the UK. With this experience, there's the possibility of career to regional or global health lead in that company or another. There is also the possibility of progressing to executive leadership roles e.g. with overall responsibility for health, safety and environment.

Many thanks to Mohammed Blaaza, medical student at UCL, for the question

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