From preventive medicine to occupational and environmental medicine
There are doctors who enjoy solely working with patients and there are doctors who enjoy spending hours in labs studying the effects of toxins on the human body. For Dr. Kathryn Bird, an occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) resident at the Colorado School of Public Health, medicine should to be a combination of both. Occupational and environmental medicine gives her that variety.
“I have two areas that I enjoy,” says Dr. Bird. “One is clinical medicine because it is fun working with patients. Every patient is different; some cases are easy, some are challenging, but no two are the same. The other area I enjoy is toxicology.”
Prior to beginning the OEM residency Dr. Bird completed her internship in family practice at Swedish Hospital and the preventive medicine residency at the Colorado School of Public Health. Through her preventive medicine residency an interest in OEM developed.
“In [the preventive medicine] residency you learn a little bit about occupational and environmental medicine,” Dr. Bird says. “Some of the research I did on obesity looked at environmental factors to see how it affected individuals. I knew I wanted to be able to do this type of work in a very practical way, which OEM allows me to do.”
Millions of people are employed in the United States and many of these workers are employed in high risk occupations prone to illnesses and injuries. From mining and construction to agriculture and manufacturing, Dr. Bird is learning about illnesses and injuries related to these occupations; however, she is also learning about the occupations.
“In occupational medicine you learn about injuries related to the workplace, but you also have to learn about numerous types of jobs,” explains Dr. Bird. “Miners, construction workers and welders all have very different jobs and their exposures and injuries are different.”
“It requires knowledge of both occupations and medicine, and the ability to apply one to the other …to understand the risks for not only an individual patient but for all workers in an industry,” Dr. Bird continues.
On military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan military personnel burn their debris in large pit fires, yet the debris is often very harmful to human health. Working with Dr. Cecile Rose at National Jewish Health, Dr. Bird studied the respiratory effects of burn pit fires on military personnel. She says many military personnel have come forward with respiratory effects like bronchiolitis and occupational asthma.
Through this study, a group of clinicians, military personnel and scientists formed to help assess the exposures and determine how people should be treated. Additionally, Dr. Bird is completing her practicum year at a variety of OEM sites including: National Jewish Health, Denver Health’s employee health clinic and OSHA.
Last fall, Dr. Bird took the Colorado School of Public Health’s Health Effects from Occupational and Environmental Exposure class on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. In this course she studied recent public health disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 and learned about them from three perspectives: geophysical, clinical and industrial hygiene.
“I enjoy learning about new occupations and finding out how these affect people,” states Dr. Bird. “There are a lot of occupations I never knew much about. You come to learn that millions of people worldwide are involved in these occupations and some of them are being harmed by some aspect of it.”
After completing her residency this summer, Dr. Bird would like to work in an occupational medicine clinic. She would also like to do a little consulting that would involve reviewing toxicology cases or independent medical exams.
Visit the Graduate Medical Education Web site to learn more about the Colorado School of Public Health’s residency programs.