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?