Being an MD,  Life story,  Thoughts

From MD to Mommy: A Journey from Nephrology to Occupational Health..

A lot of my indonesian friends have asked me, what I actually do as an occupational consultant/physician. In this post I would like to share my experience as an occupational physician. I’ve been knowing some Indonesian MD colleagues who are interested in taking specializations in Germany, since Germany is lacking of MDs these days. A lot of indonesian MDs want to do their residency either in the internal medicine or surgery. But by writing this post, I would like to introduce another possibility which is also just as interesting!

While writing this, I fully realize that this post isn’t going to be so easy to write. I am trying to pack a lot of information in one (hopefully) easy to read post. Still this is going to be a rather long post, so please bear with me 🙂

As I started my training as a specialist for occupational health in 2015, I needed to learn all the German laws and regulations regarding health and safety in working places. There are so many of them, it felt like I had started a whole new study. Being an occupational consultant (OC) is not just being a physician. In my mind it is a combination of being a physician, a lawyer and manager. The modern occupational consultant is not „just“ an MD.. So, knowing diseases and how to treat them are actually not enough in this branch. The main point of the job is not treating diseases but preventing them. For me it was an extreme change of paradigm..

Unfortunately occupational medicine was not a popular subject during med school. The least people could actually imagine what this profession really is. As a med school student, one would probably know that occupational health has something to do with occupational diseases (e.g. Pleural mesotheliom due to asbestos exposition). But only the fewest people would know, that an OC gets to see all kinds of works and assess their risks or that an OC should manage a health project in a big firm. I actually belonged to these few people since I knew very little about occupational health.. In my previous posts I had implied, that because of personal reasons I didn’t want to continue my work at the internal medicine department anymore (although I was in love with the kidney and I still am in love with this special organ). It was a rather blind jump as I decided to start a training in occupational health.

At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of the regulations existing in Germany.. I have been living pretty long in Germany. But not until then I had to learn such difficult words! The German terms of these laws are really a „tongue twister“.. Can you imagine how I felt, as I learned terms such as „Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz“ (protection law for young workers) or „Verordnung zur Arbeitsmedizinischen Vorsorge“ (regulation of occupational health preventive examination)??

My role as an OC is to assess working places regarding their risks and dangers. And this assessment is based on very specific regulations/law, which is basically called occupational safety law. Usually I work in a team, mainly consisting of an HSE (health & safety engineer), an occupational psychologist and an occupational health manager. Together we help employers assess their working places and implement solutions to minimize the working risks or hazards. As an OC I focus on the health of employees while the HSE engineers focus on the technical solutions.

As time goes on, I do befriend this new profession for its broad spectrum. At times I didn’t feel like an MD anymore because I was jumping from one meeting to another. I rarely had to wear my white coat anymore. Instead I had to put on a suit..but also sometimes a helm or safety shoes, depending on the sites I visited and assessed. In the first 1,5 years I was on the road driving so much, which was fun but also rather exhausting. The advantage of having to drive a lot was that I actually got to know a lot of beautiful places and visit many interesting workplaces all over Bavaria! But after over 1,5 year I was glad to finally stay more in the city and consult more local firms.

There are advantages of working as an occupational physician. For one, there are no longer 24-hours-/weekend-/night shifts. It is basically a 9 to 5 job or even less, because the job is so flexible that I can work anytime or anywhere. It is indeed a very family oriented job. There are no life threatening emergencies I have to handle (which is good for my nerves).. And I get to know so many different people from any kind of work branches. It is such an enrichment as I actually get to learn so many different things outside medicine.

But I do must say, that this profession is not for everybody, especially not for physicians who like to treat patients and do hand ons. I do sometimes miss the clinical work and the satisfaction after treating a patient..

To become an occupational consultant in Germany, one needs to have at least two years experience of clinical medicine (usually it is the internal medicine or surgery). And then there will be three years of training, in which you work your own projects and consult different firms / corporates under a supervision of a specialist. As mentioned above, a lot of projects are usually done in team. Of course there are also medical consultation works, in which the OC does physical examinations, aptitude tests or preventive examinations.

During these three years of training, there are three obligatory courses (each lasts for 3 full weeks) one has to attend. In these courses one will get to learn all the theories that are relevant to the job of an occupational physician.

There are a lot of possibilities to do your training as an occupational consultant in Germany. You can work at the university, in a private practice, in a big transregional company (in Germany for example the 3 biggest firms are BAD, TÜV Rheinland and IAS-Group), or in a big company working as their house physician (for example at Siemens, Daimler, Audi etc.).

I began my training at TÜV Rheinland. There are two sides of it. The plus side at working in a big trans-national company is that I get to see a lot of companies. I consult various firms and workplaces thus giving me the chance to learn a lot of different occupations and their health risks. The less positive side is that I don’t really get to know each company in-depth, just because of the limited time capacity. By working as a house physician, you would learn the company inside out, giving you the opportunity of getting to know the employees very well and implementing long-term solutions.

I think this is more information than enough for the beginning. I would be happy to write more about my work, should any questions pop!

P.s. Germany is lacking of occupational consultants! So if you are an MD who’s interested in diverse things and wants to get to know a lot of people, who’s not a friend of emergencies, 24-hours-/night-/changing shifts: consider doing occupational health 🙂

In the next post about occupational medicine I would like to write about „Mutterschutzgesetz“ (mothers protection law), which is very relevant to pregnant working women. So please stay tuned 🙂


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