The Occupational Specialist: An Overview

Occupational medicine is a specialty recognized by The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Occupational medicine specialists have completed five years of post-MD specialty training and passed qualifying examinations. Training includes an extensive multi-year clinical component emphasizing internal medicine and other medical and surgical specialties relevant to occupational medicine. The didactic component provides exposure to the basic science foundation of occupational medicine through courses in toxicology, epidemiology, and occupational hygiene, among others. The senior division of the training program includes placements in industry, government, and compensation boards.

The following describes seven roles for occupational medicine specialists:

Medical Expert

  • diagnose, manage and prevent work-related medical problems
  • carry out complex case management of occupational illness
  • promote optimal health and safety in the workplace
  • facilitate accommodation in the workplace in a safe and timely fashion to encourage return to work, rehabilitation, and prevention of disability


  • elicit and synthesize relevant worker and workplace information
  • describe relevant information to workers and employers regarding treatment, return to work and risk prevention
  • liaise with allied health disciplines involved in the worker’s care


  • work effectively with business, workers, organized labour, and government agencies to provide a healthy, safe workforce, and a work environment which fosters employee well-being


  • participate in activities that contribute to the appropriate allocation of resources to manage workplace illness and injuries, especially with respect to early and safe return to work

Health Advocate

  • advocate strategies and standards to remove or minimize workplace hazards and exposures
  • identify causal workplace factors necessary in determining a worker’s benefit entitlement


  • carry out and facilitate research leading to evidence-based decision-making and policy formulation
  • understand the multifactorial determinants of health in the context of the workplace
  • critically evaluate all available information and make scientifically-based practice decisions
  • enhance professional skills through continuous learning


  • practice in an evidence-based, ethical manner with the goals of enhancing worker well-being in an occupational context, and serving society and the profession of medicine.