I am an occupational medicine doctor. What does that mean? Fair question. Maybe my field is less familiar because visiting the occupational health doctor isn’t something most people do regularly. It’s not that we aren’t committed to addressing your health issues – we most certainly are! But in addition to providing conventional health services, some of our work takes place outside of the traditional clinical setting.
Occupational medicine is a subspecialty of preventive medicine and focuses on the health of not only individuals, but also the broader workforce population. Preventive medicine specialists have a degree in medicine but also training in biostatistics, epidemiology and public health – skills that help us analyze patterns and disease causation with the goal of ultimately mitigating or preventing disease. Occupational medicine specialists in particular are focused on understanding and preventing conditions caused by physical, chemical and biological risks in the work environment.
I was drawn to the field while I was in residency training in Nashville, Tennessee. I had explored different medical fields, but what drew me to occupational health was the opportunity to work with individuals and also with populations – instead of tackling the world’s health problems person by person, the ability to scale up and address significant population health issues seemed more impactful.
A common approach in medicine is to wait until someone is sick, then treat them. The thing that I love about occupational medicine is the preventive aspect. My job is to keep people from developing work-related conditions in the first place.
Working to provide the world with the energy it needs isn’t easy if you’re sick. So it’s vital to protect as well as promote the health and wellbeing of ExxonMobil employees, which is the main purpose of my role.
And the world is an interesting place right now. With air travel, we’re only one to two transportation links away from many areas in the world. With this increased mobility and the growth of urbanization, you can spread disease faster than any other time in our history, which makes our task that much harder.
Preventive medicine is especially useful in this challenging environment. We do everything in our power to protect our workforce from diseases such as malaria, Zika and Ebola. In fact, ExxonMobil consults with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other experts to understand and respond to emerging health threats across the globe.
But we’re not only looking at epidemics and diseases; we also try to proactively detect and control potential chemical and physical health risks. For instance, it may surprise people to know that our Medicine and Occupational Health team spends a considerable amount of time in the field looking for potential exposures in the workplace and recommending mitigation measures to keep our employees and contractors safe. From the frigid Arctic to scorching deserts, our team assesses occupational, infectious and other hazards to ensure that health risks are controlled and that our people have access to appropriate medical care.
I get to work with a wonderful group of health professionals. I work with clinicians, industrial hygienists and public health specialists, and we leverage our collective strengths to solve problems. Although these occupational health practitioners deliver services in multiple locations across 30 countries, we work as a tightly knit unit to develop targeted approaches to similar problems. At times, it can be hectic, but I take to heart the mantra, “no one of us is as smart as all of us” and I remember that we really are all in this together.
Today, as a doctor at ExxonMobil, I am doing what I love: Every day I ask questions, research problems and help others. I feel like this position was tailor-made for me. We work in a nontraditional way in nontraditional settings to ensure our people always stay healthy.