As physicians continue to learn and grow throughout their careers, many aspire to become physician leaders or physician executives. They may want to own and operate a practice one day as a solo practitioner or as the head of a group, or they may climb the ranks of a large healthcare or hospital system, ultimately leading a department or serving as Chief Medical Officer or even Chief Executive Officer. These are excellent paths for physicians with leadership aspirations; however, there are still more opportunities for physician executives that go beyond patient care and the healthcare industry.
Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM) provides a path for physician leaders to work in any industry. These physicians work with corporate executives or government officials to implement policies that preserve and protect the health of workers. Keep reading for more about physician executive jobs in OEM.
OEM Physician Executives in the time of COVID
When the world shut down in the spring of 2020, corporate leaders looked to OEM physician executives for guidance on the best way to protect the health of employees, whether they were working remotely or were essential workers still reporting to the workplace. As the pandemic evolved, OEM physicians advised leaders on safely bringing employees back to the office. They also led the guidance on vaccinating employees and vaccine mandates in the workplace.
The pandemic certainly cast OEM physicians in starring roles, but their jobs didn’t begin or end with the pandemic. Even as we move past the COVID-19 emergency, these physician leaders continue to play a critical and ongoing role in population health management.
OEM Experts Weigh In
In a recent article with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), Jackson Physician Search spoke to two fellows of the ACOEM, Douglas Martin, M.D. of CNOS Occupational Medicine in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, and William Brett Perkison, M.D., MPH, assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Houston, School of Public Health’s Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, and program director for the Occupational and Environmental Medicine residency program. The pair talked at length about the impact of the pandemic on the field of OEM as well as emerging trends.
They say the pandemic forced companies to realize the importance of public health and thus acknowledge the value of OEM physicians. This is a positive outcome, except there are still not enough OEM physicians to meet an increasing need. Dr. Martin expressed disappointment that despite their critical role during the pandemic, funding for public health jobs remains stagnant, and the number of OEM residency spots has not increased.
The demand for OEM physicians is certainly there. Dr. Perkins says most of the OEM residents coming through his program at the University of Texas secure jobs nine months before completing training. So, as with so many physician specialties, it seems the shortage of OEM physicians will only worsen.
Challenges Facing OEM Physicians Post-COVID
When asked how the job of an OEM physician has changed since COVID-19, the two fellows discussed the increased number of remote workers, a longer timeline for care delivery, reduced in-house OEM, and the impact of Long-COVID.
- Remote Workers
While many companies have brought workers back to the office, the number of remote workers remains significantly higher than it was pre-COVID, and these workers are difficult to monitor. The physical workspace of these remote employees is varied, and the distance makes it challenging to instill healthy habits or recognize emerging mental health issues.
- Longer to Deliver Care
For a number of reasons, Dr. Martin notes that it is taking longer for his patients to receive care. For example, he may put in a PT order for a patient who has injured himself on the job; however, the back and forth involved with scheduling and processing insurance means it may be a week or more before the patient sees the physical therapist. This prolongs treatment and keeps the patient out of work longer.
- Less In-House OEM
With more employees working remotely, in-house clinics are utilized less. As a result, companies are outsourcing more. This means fewer advanced practice providers are on the payroll, as they contract nearby clinics to treat workers.
- Long COVID Management
The lingering effects of COVID-19, referred to as Long-COVID, continue to perplex physicians and patients alike. OEM physicians are uniquely positioned to observe trends among workers and advise on best practices and standards for returning to work after a COVID infection. If symptoms of Long-COVID persist, OEM physicians will be involved in determining if the physical or mental challenges put the worker at risk or prevent him or her from doing the job.
Physician Executive Jobs in OEM
While the pandemic brought visibility to OEM and shone a light on its importance, the shortage of OEM physicians is worsening. However, OEM physician jobs have increased appeal for younger generations who prioritize work-life balance. Dr. Martin emphasizes that OEM jobs often come with less stress than jobs in other specialties. Residents pursuing internal medicine, family medicine, or occupational medicine may consider an OEM fellowship to pursue opportunities in this important field.
Are you pursuing physician executive jobs? The field of Occupational and Environmental Medicine offers a variety of opportunities for physician leaders. Reach out to our recruitment team to learn more or search physician jobs online now.