ACOEM invites you to share your story about what drew you to practice occupational and environmental medicine (OEM). How did you become involved in the specialty? Was there a specific event or perhaps a mentor who was instrumental in setting your path? You might reflect on the past while pondering the future of OEM and provide some words of wisdom to those who will follow. Share your story and encourage new generations of physicians to choose a profession that combines clinical medical practice with the need to influence and shape the behavior of individuals and organizations.
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What sparks an interest in Occupational Medicine? My visits to an Ohio tire manufacturer as a teenager, or to a local prison with my Social Studies class in high school didn’t. Nor did summer jobs flinging hamburgers, on a production line, or driving a fork truck in a soda bottling plant seem to influence my career path. In med school, an elective course in preventive medicine with a strong emphasis on industrial health was an introduction into OM. We observed lead exposure at a battery reclamation center; watched masked, white-suited pharmaceutical workers shoveling tablets amidst antibiotic dust, and took a field trip a mile underground to harvest anthracite coal. It was a fascinating exposure to a different type of medicine, but it did not seem to impact my career goal. I was set on becoming a country doctor in an underserved rural community. I had yet to learn that such a community was made up of workers.
I settled into a village in northern Maine and soon was drawn into practice with an older local doc, the epitome of the old-time general practitioner – inpatient and office care, obstetrics, nursing home, school doc, and surgery. He was also the company doctor for a large paper mill. Within a year, I found myself sharing time there. I appreciated the clinical challenges and was intrigued by the management and medico-legal issues. In a desire to learn and gain expertise, I joined AOMA, the precursor to ACOEM, and attended AOHC and our component society conferences, completed the Basic Curriculum courses and earned the designation of Fellow. All the while I worked with other industries in the area performing independent medical exams and consultations, affirming my role as an occupational physician.
For nearly forty years I have continued to pursue my original goal of primary care but have had the unexpected satisfaction of adding skills and colleagues in OM. Perhaps the roots of that interest were sown in those early exposures to worksites — or maybe it was destiny?
Ron Blum, MD, FACOEM, FAAFPRon Blum MD FACOEM FAAFP Patten, Maine
I began my Medical Career with an MD from Tver State Medical Academy. I joined the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria in 1999 as a Medical Officer /GP, and slowly and steadily became involved with Occupational Medicine. I received my professional orientation at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria in 2009.
I joined ACOEM 3 years ago for its visionary role in OEM. It has given me a wonderful platform not only to express myself but learn from the very best in the field. Through ACOEM and AOHC, I have been able to positively impact my industry and work environment. I must admit the challenges in OEM are there, but together we can overcome!
Charles Babajide Onigbogi, MDSupervisor Clinical Services & Operations NNPC Medical Division, Nigeria
I started my Occupational & Environmental Medicine training at Mount Sinai-Irving J. Seilikoff Center for Occupational Health. I enjoyed participating in a variety of academic and clinical projects, including publishing guidelines on solvent-related disorders for the New York State Clinical Network.
As a physician at the New York University Occupational Clinic, I collaborated on post 9/11 screening programs for NY police and rescue workers. Currently, in my private clinical and consulting practices, I conduct regulatory compliant programs for police and firefighters and treat work-related injuries.
Since 2013, I have served as an officer for the International Section of ACOEM. At our annual meetings, I have presented on air quality in China. Recently, I have spoken at Fu Dan University in China on the topic of occupational health in the US.
OEM has given me the opportunity to promote health, happiness, and productivity in the workplace, both locally and globally.
Jean Xiao, MD, MSc, FACOEMPresident, WFMS, Ridgewood, NJ
I learned about occupational and environmental medicine upon applying to the Army residency program in Preventive Medicine. The Army supported a dual-training track at the time. I was drawn to occupational medicine in that it serves a profound purpose in the Army. Not only do OEM professionals medically qualify personnel to ensure they are ready to execute the Army’s industrial, operational, and expeditionary missions, it is a world-wide healthcare delivery service dedicated to ensuring that the health of all personnel is protected from work-related and environmental hazards. In my position there is tremendous variation in my duties which keeps me pumped and energized to tackle public health initiatives, investigations, and policy. It has been a professional dream to travel around the globe and support a diverse occupational health program. I truly love being a physician within the Armed Services — it is noble work, professionally gratifying, and personally rewarding.
Raul Mirza, MS, DO, MPH, FACOEMProgram Manager, Army Public Health Center
In 1988, I began an internal medicine practice after completing my residency. A part-time job opportunity at GE Plastics in Pittsfield, MA presented itself — my first day as an occupational physician was earth shattering! I had no idea what OM was & realized I needed a good resource. Then I discovered ACOEM’s website. Through intro courses & collegial relationships formed via ACOEM & my regional component, my career took a positive turn allowing me to launch my 25 year career in occ med. The introduction of the MPH program through ACOEM led to my board certification in OM, & in 1995 I ended my internal medicine practice to pursue OM full-time — the best decision I have ever made both for myself & my family as it allowed for more involvement in my children’s activities & a successful career.
In return for the guidance & support provided by ACOEM, I feel obliged to give back to the organization. I am actively involved in a leadership role & have mentored many young physicians. A professional organization should provide a foundation & resources for its members, & the members should energize the organization with their talents & energy. After all, we the members are ACOEM!
Philip Adamo, MD, MPH, FACOEMMedical Director, Baystate Health Employee and Occupational Health Springfield, MA
Journey to Chief
Occupational Medicine provides a diversity of opportunities in conflict prone areas that groom physician leaders. I came on board my organization in 2008 as Medical Director coinciding with an acknowledgement by senior management of the need to shift the culture in terms of safety. There was no consistent light duty program and employees remained inappropriately out of work for prolonged periods of time. In instituting system wide workplace accommodations we were able to manage cost and facilitate returning the injured back to functionality.
We were also able to drive down our Workers Compensation costs concomitantly associated with a decrease in the incidence of slips, trips and falls as well as patient handling injuries. In 2015 we were winners of the coveted TEDDY award for workers compensation risk management.
Tanisha Taylor, MD, MPH, FACOEMChief Medical Officer, Barnabas Health Corporate Care
My first exposure to OEM was as a Navy general medical officer post-internship. This lead to my completing a residency in occupational medicine and a subsequent career primarily in academia. I’ve learned that one of the arts of occupational medicine is doing what is best for a patient while at the same time doing what is best for the employer, which I don’t think is an inherent concept for other healthcare specialties. Applying this daily and fulfilling a personal goal of service to workers, patients, employers, families, communities, and the public make for a satisfying career.
Volunteering with ACOEM brings great rewards. One gets to achieve important end-products while being with others who understand and appreciate what you do!
Denece Kesler, MD, MPH
I began my first job as Occupational Health Physician at the Public Health Department of Amsterdam 30 years ago. I once was asked to wear a biteworker’s suit to train a forester’s dog! I then spent 6 years improving occupational health in government which gave me a better understanding of politics. In 1996 I started my own company and found clients in different sectors including a bike factory with chinese owners and a law firm where employees worked excessive hours.
My work today focuses on sick leave and return to work policies. I teach the next generation of physicians and enjoy inciting enthusiam in OEM. My studies in different countries and learning from different cultures helped me facilitate cooperation between employers, unions and govenrments on international projects, which is what I enjoy. So in 2013 when ACOEM asked me to serve as VP of my national OM society and to become a founding member of the International Occupational Medicine Societies Collaborative (IOMSC), I accepted without hesitation.
A global initiative has been launched to improve workers’ conditions through the understanding of complexities and problems and to find common best practices. To some, our profession seems dull and not heroic; yet it is at the very center of society. OEM is one of the most exciting and challenging professions now and in the future.
Herman SpanjaardVice President, Nederl Vereniging voor Arbeids-en Bedrijfsgeneeskunde (NVAB) Amsterdam Area, Netherlands
My director in family practice had his office next to a Caterpillar factory and told me how he enjoyed seeing the workers for their medical needs.
The ER that I was working did not really like the work comp system and with two daughters to raise on my own I thought about taking the ER to the employers in my first office—that was 1978!
In 1994 I went to school to study and earn my MPH and took the boards in occ med. We now have 14 offices and love occ med!
Richard F. Johnson, MD, MPH
As a medical student already interested in Occupational Medicine, I helped run the AMSA OEM task force – passionate about prevention! My career has spanned consulting, a touch of research, private practice, government work, chemical demilitarization and case management. My latest professional interest is developing online education for occ docs. I love the diversity of experience OEM offers, the chance to fix dysfunctional systems and deal with people and organizations with all their complex motivations!
Marianne Cloeren, MD, MPH, FACOEMChair, ACOEM Council on OEM Practice Senior Medical Director, Managed Care Advisors
I recall my first AOHC. I did not know anyone and was not quite sure what OM was. Yet everyone was supportive and welcoming. Attending a Computers in Occupational Medicine Section meeting led to my first book collaboration – Internet Resources for the Occupational Health Professional. A real need existed in the 90s to educate Occ Docs on the value of the internet in their practices.
Always saying yes at AOHC meetings landed me at a Federal Highway meeting and the expansion of my work in CDME. More yeses led to more work: on councils, planning committees, the Board, and becoming an officer. Lloyd Tepper frequently spoke about the importance of building a professional network as a resource. For me, ACOEM is just that. My gigantic network of not just colleagues but friends.
You can only get as much out of an organization as you are willing to put in. Happily, I have more than recouped my investment in ACOEM both personally and professionally.
Natalie P. Hartenbaum, MD, MPH, FACOEMPresident and Chief Medical Officer, OccuMedix, Dresher, PA
My interest in Occupational Medicine was solidified by a mentor at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, Dr. LeRoy Meyer. An iconic figure in Internal Medicine, he identified my love of clinical medicine coupled with an interest in administration and legal aspects. He encouraged me to complete a residency in family medicine in a locale with an industrial base, encapsulating the best training experience possible for what I do now as an Occ Doc that pretty much does everything.
Douglas W. Martin, MD, FACOEM, FAADEP, FAAFPMedical Director | UnityPoint Clinic, Sioux City, IA
I implement and support on-site occupational health & wellness clinics while directing occupational health services for over 14,000 employees. I oversee the company’s self-insured health plans, and insource advocacy services to improve the understanding & management of chronic diseases, access to quality healthcare, and programs to optimize workforce productivity.
I lecture to physicians-in-training, and will co-chair the management and administration track for AOHC 2016. I act as physician’s spokesperson for the AHA on worksite wellness & health screening programs, and recently provided Congressional testimonials for these initiatives. I hike, travel and enjoy long distance running to maintain my own fitness & work-life balance.
Craig Thorne, MD, MPH, MBA, FACP, FACOEMVice President and Medical Director, Employee Health and Wellness | ERICKSON LIVING
I am a UK trained occupational medicine specialist. I developed an international distance-learning program in aviation medicine, occupational medicine, & aeromedical retrieval/transport 30 years ago & still lead a staff of 15 teaching worldwide. I joined the ACOEM family 7 years ago, and have been on the Council on Education & Academic Affairs for the past 4. I am the Foundations Program Director, and work with others to develop ACOEM’s online educational offerings. It’s my privilege to work with so many talented and warm-hearted people, whose vision to improve workers’ health is both deep & wide.
Rob GriffithsDirector of Occupational & Aviation Medicine | University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand