Occupational Health Doctor: An Alternative Pathway after Housemanship

I mentioned about OHD a while back. The reason why I chose this field was because:

  • It’s a relatively unknown field
  • It’s something quite different
  • No oncalls. Yass!

Chance had it that I was given the opportunity to pursue this pathway so I give thanks to God for that. Truth be told, I had zero inkling what occupational health is all about before I went for the course conducted by NIOSH.

Occupational health was and still is one of the subspecialty under the domain of Public Health in Malaysia. However the pathway now to become a recognised Public Health specialist is much more difficult compared to few years ago.

I got a lot of new knowledge after attending the Occupational Health Doctor course. For your information, NIOSH (short form for National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) acts as the agency responsible for training and research, whereas DOSH (Department of Safety and Health) is the enforcement arm that swings down the bat of justice hard on those unscrupulous employers that exploit and harm workers.

The current training format of OHD is one of short course where training takes place over 9 days split over 3 weekends. In this very short period of time, the amount of information they’ll cram into you is staggering. One would have to learn about the different terminologies, new way of thinking, adapting clinical knowledge into industrial setting, relevant laws and regulations and so on. Not to mention the myriad occupational diseases – which would be the clinical side of things.

The course I went for costed me about RM3k and it included all textbooks and food. It was held at the NIOSH office. We also had the opportunity to conduct a mock workplace assessment at a construction site (which is normally closed to the general public) to try our hand at identifying workplace hazards and come up with control measures, which is bread and butter for a practising OHD.

As to the exam.. well, that’s a post for another time. I haven’t sat for the exam yet.

I came to understand that OHD is a very popular supplementary qualification sought by a lot of doctors in the country. After attending the course, I realised why. A lot of the laws and regulations which employers and industrial companies have to adhere to require some interventions of which only qualified OHDs have the authority to conduct.

The lecturers allude to the lucrative side of the career- hard to see why. OHDs are high in demand by big multinationals and GLCs, and having this qualification puts you in good stead of clinching a good job offer in the private sector should you think of quitting the government at some point in the future.

That being said, becoming and OHD doesn’t mean you become a specialist. It’s just an extra qualification which qualifies you to do certain things the general public or practitioners from other fields couldn’t. While it can potentially be lucrative, it’s completely up to the resourcefulness of the doctors themselves to venture into business (depending on which side of the country you’re in).

Some final thoughts – OHD is one of the things I’m glad I forked out my hard-earned money for. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air compared to the usual things you see in the hospital wards. It can be dry at times, but the exposure to the technical side of things is essential for you to grasp the intricacies of this field and become an expert in it.

Always remember the adage, if you’re good at something, never do it for free.

Life after Housemanship: Now What?

It’s been 4 months after I officially finished my housemanship.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people had the same doubts as I had when I was nearing the end of my housemanship. Yet I consider myself decisive when it came to making a decision for myself.

Many people would settle for one of the big 7 specialisation – Medical, Surgical, Orthopaedics, Paediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Anaesthesiology and Emergency Medicine. A lot would settle for serving at rural clinics or Klinik Kesihatan.

As for myself, I have not an inkling of idea what to do with myself in the next 30 years. And I shudder to think of being oncall for the rest of my life. I don’t see myself being in the clinical side of things. And I absolutely hate calls. Lack of sleep and the heavy patient load has taken it’s toll on my body and health and I loathe to imagine how I would end up if I continue doing something I hate for the next few years.

So that meant almost all of the specialties is a no-no for me. In Malaysia, that leaves only going into administration or continue being a general clinical MO as viable pathways.

I have always liked Public Health as an alternative and for a time that became my goal. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, that would mean having to go through PhD before one gets recognised as a specialist eligible for registration in the NSR. Not to mention the “mentor-mentee” program (which I have absolutely zero idea about) and having to serve in district (at least that’s how it is in Sarawak).

I shudder to think of being bonded with the government for another 7 or 10 years if I do decide to go for the local PhD route. It would mean having served at least a quarter of my life in an invisible bondage of service.

Another option came up and I chose take it – Occupational Safety and Health. Granted, it is not a specialty by itself. But I went for the OHD course anyway and found myself quite interested in the field. That’s a story for another day.

There are a lot of different fields available in Malaysia as our healthcare system improves every year – nuclear medicine, pathology, radiology etc. Even more obscure ones are those who serve in the military, of which I’m pretty sure are only reserved for those who graduated from the RMC or Universiti Pertahanan. At one point I even fantasised of joining the army as an army doctor but that would mean forfeiting my life once my parents find out and kill me.

Well, for now, I’m content, and I haven’t felt this way in a long time. And that’s saying something.