Over the years, the demographic of Filipinos in the workforce has drastically changed. For example, employment in industry groups has seen a large shift — in the mid-90’s the agriculture, fishery, and forestry industry were the top industries in terms of employment share. The early 2000’s told a different story when the services sector took over the workforce demand.

Another factor that affected the Philippine workforce profile is the increasing participation of women and children in the labour force. These demographic switches have since become major concerns in the practice of occupational medicine in the country.

Despite the apparent need to aid healthcare issues entailed in various working conditions, occupational medicine as a medical specialty has experience hurdles in making itself recognised.

In fact, it was not until 2010 that the Philippine College of Occupational Medicine received its specialty status despite having been established in the last 44 years. This gave occupational medicine in the Philippines the appreciation that helped fuel the growth of the specialty in the country.

Debunking occupational medicine myths

In a nutshell, occupational medicine focuses on the prevention and treatment of workplace-related injuries and illnesses. Additionally, it is worth noting that the work involved in this branch of medicine—according to the world-renowned medical doctor, Dr Stephen Levin—spans from clinical medicine to research and advocacy for people.

However, given occupational medicine’s long history of gradual recognition in the Philippines, there are still some areas of this medical specialty that the Filipino people misunderstood.

As such, MIMS spoke to Dr Gia Sison, doctor-blogger and public health activist, to clear up such misconceptions:

1. Occupational Medicine is not a ‘real’ medical specialty

Dr Sison recalls instances when people often ask ‘Ano ‘yun? (What is that?)” each time she mentions her specialty.

“I always end up explaining [what I do], especially when I work with people outside of the medical field,” Dr Sison lamented. “There are times when I have to enumerate what really goes on in the specialty to give them a thorough understanding of what occupational medicine really is.”

2. Occupational medicine and general practice are one and the same

While skillsets required for both occupational medicine and general practice may be similar, they are still not the same fields.

General practitioners keep a holistic approach in medicine, and are trained to attend to and treat patients of any age and gender. On the other hand, occupational medicine specialists are trained to analyse and prevent risks of incurring injuries and illnesses in the workplace, as well as the treatment required for such.

Dr Sison adds, “Occupational medicine specialists are very much involved in health policymaking, and working closely with a company’s Human Resources department, as well as the environmental health and safety people.”

3. ‘Occupational medicine specialist’ is just another name for company physicians

Specialists of occupational medicine play a big role in providing value-based medical care that benefit both the workers and the employers. Occupational medicine specialists deal with both the clinical and business side of medicine.

“As specialists in this area of medicine, we are also expected to take into consideration the company’s finances; we need to conduct cost analysis; and propose ways employers can reduce their health maintenance organisation (HMO) utilisation.”

Keeping in mind that there are so many different work settings, tailor-fitting health programmes for employees is usually the trickiest part of an occupational medicine specialist’s job.

Dr Gia Sison MIMS Interview 3

Evidence-based research and diagnoses as keys to practicing occupational medicine

Dr Sison admits that while all medical specialties are challenging in varying ways, working on industry-specific researches—plus the paperwork—add to the tediousness of her job as an occupational medicine specialist. But this, according to Dr Sison, is just one part of the job. She says that the challenge, the hardest part of being an occupational specialist, is delivering medical termination notices to employees.

“Of course, before we lead up to terminating an employee’s contract, we will need to have hard-core backing as to why we arrived at the decision. All our actions, recommendations, and proposals need to be supported by data and research,” said Dr Sison.

And while evidence-based medicine in the Philippines still has a long way to go, Dr Sison said that right now, occupational medicine specialists and medical students have sufficient research to help them provide patients—and employers—with the best health and business outcomes.

“There are now local workshops, some led by Dr Antonio Dans, that you can attend to learn more about evidence-based medicine.”

Expressing hope in a cause Dr Sison supports—ending physician burnout—the doctor said that with the use of evidence-based research, it is possible curb a health problem in the workplace she is most familiar with—the hospital. MIMS

Suggested reading:
Top blogs by Filipino doctors
5 misconceptions that occupational therapists must deal with
Little known diseases: What you need to know about Lupus

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11343362_Occupational_health_in_the_Philippines
  2. https://www.thenation.com/article/remembering-dr-stephen-levin/
  3. http://today.mims.com/topic/the-filipino-general-practitioner?country=philippines&channel=gn-local-news-ph
  4. https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/philippine-daily-inquirer/20100529/283356173356321
  5. http://www.oshc.dole.gov.ph/images/Files/Info%20Materials/National-OSH-Profile.pdf
  6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11343362_Occupational_health_in_the_Philippines
  7. https://laborlawphilippines.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/rule-1960-occupational-health-services/
  8. http://www.lawphil.net/statutes/presdecs/pd1974/pd_442_1974.html