Year : 2021  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 125--127

Research and the occupational health physician

Bobby Joseph 
 Division of Occupational Health Services, Department of Community Health, St. John's Medical College Hospital, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Bobby Joseph
Division of Occupational Health Services, Department of Community Health, St. John's Medical College Hospital, Bangalore, Karnataka

How to cite this article:
Joseph B. Research and the occupational health physician.Indian J Occup Environ Med 2021;25:125-127

How to cite this URL:
Joseph B. Research and the occupational health physician. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 28 ];25:125-127
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Full Text

Although not a stated objective of the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, this publication provides Occupational Health Physicians in this country a wonderful opportunity to showcase the job they do in their workplaces. However, during my short tenure at the Editor's desk there has never been any submission of note from an industrial medical officer. Neither are there any publications by them in the journal over the past few years. Given that there have been winners from India of the Global Healthy Workplace Award practically every year since the institution of these prizes in the year 2013, this is rather surprising. To this end, the Editorial Team invites workplaces to showcase their outstanding and award-winning work in these pages – these success stories of the “research to practice” genre can surely help others emulate these champions.

What about the more traditional research studies from case reports to descriptive studies to analytical studies, not to mention systematic reviews and meta-analysis? Factory medical officers and medical personnel in other work settings could surely conduct research and publish their findings in this journal. Perhaps a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) Analysis will encourage studies by medical officers in Indian worksites.

 The Strengths

Probably (and in many cases) the greatest strength of the worksite is the relatively stable population that is readily available for research studies – both observational and experimental. Being a medical officer on site, firsthand observations in the factory clinic and even on the shopfloor are eminently possible. Thereafter, based on these observations, interventions can be planned and conducted. Follow-up of the interventions in these closed populations is also easily done. Another strength of the meticulous recording of the continuous follow-up of employees in the worksite is that the natural course of health-related events and illnesses can be described over time.

 The Weaknesses

It is not that the worksites have no weaknesses. First, we recognize that more than 90% of our working population is employed in the unorganized sector – procuring data from these populations can be an arduous task given all the peculiarities of the sector. Even so, the Editorial Team, has been encouraging original research, if not at least brief communications, of studies done in the unorganized sector.

The organized sector has its own set of problems - while not explicitly stated, permission to conduct research among the employees may not be given by the managements for fear of generating any information which may seem even remotely critical of themselves or of their working environments. Thereafter, if permission is granted, the publication of the results will not be allowed given that the findings may create adverse publicity and that too with monitoring agencies. Meaningful occupational health work does not figure in the priorities of the management (and consequently even the physicians). Additionally, in direct contrast to what is stated above, there are some industries where the attrition rates among the employees make any meaningful research impossible e.g., the apparel manufacturing industry. Underlying all this is also the inherent issue of the unavailability of systematically collected data – in many smaller industries even daily clinic visits are hardly ever recorded.

From the point of view of the Medical Officers themselves, the availability of time may be a constraint. A perusal of online human resource hiring portals[1] lists at least a dozen responsibilities of prospective factory medical officers (research not being one of them!) – the brief most often includes clinical work leaving little time for academic and research activity. Added to this, an underlying anxiety in conducting research and a fear of statistics compound the problem.

 The Opportunities

Having recognized these strengths and weaknesses, it is worthwhile acknowledging the opportunities that working in the industrial setting provide. From an individual point of view, the recognition that the medical officer will receive should serve as an incentive. Many industries and corporates promote a culture of research as can be seen from the numerous presentations at our own annual national conferences of the Indian Association of Occupational Health. Indeed, many corporates encourage the presentation of findings at national and international conferences. International bodies – both professional and non-governmental – provide grants for such presentations. Most importantly, sharing of the findings can help drive policy at the regional and national level.

The underlying anxiety and fear of research and statistics referred to earlier, can actually serve as an opportunity for industry doctors and academia to collaborate (even with the folds of the Indian Association of Occupational Health). The Association has on many occasions committed to teaching research methodology and presentation skills.

 The Challenges

Research in the occupational setting is not without its challenges (or what is more ominously termed as “threats”). The pandemic-imposed lockdown is a recent and clear example of how any meaningful research could have suffered or even been completely discontinued – though such occurrences are rare while looking at research from a long-term and historical perspective. A sudden change in the management or even of the perspectives of the management can put paid to ongoing research studies.

Added to this are two issues related to the objective of publishing one's research findings. The first is a more recent requirement – that of securing an Ethics Board approval before the commencement of studies. Medical Officers may view this as an unnecessary hurdle towards conducting research but one that is becoming imperative in the publishing domain. Then after the study has been completed and the manuscript been readied for submission – finding a good journal that will accept the article can by itself be a tortuous and a torturous process. The high rejection rates in this journal itself are a case in point.

However, all these factors should not be a deterrent to research, and good research.

 The Attributes of a Good Researcher

The qualities of a good researcher have been listed by several authors. Toledo-Pereyra LH[2] lists interest, motivation, inquisitiveness, commitment, sacrifice, excellence, knowledge, recognition, a scholarly approach and integration as ten such qualities. Syed I[3] has listed a dozen attributes complementing and supplementing the previous list including inquisitiveness, thirst for knowledge, analytical ability, innovativeness, adaptability, focus, perseverance, collaboration, communication, foresightedness, integrity, and passion.

An adaption of a shorter list by Regoniel PA[4] would read as follows – a good researcher:

Is inherently inquisitive (in a good way) and manifests a thirst for new informationHas a keen sense of things around him/her and recognizes subtle changes that can make a differencePerseveres in applying a systematic approach in analyzing situationsMust have integrity and be intelligent enough to express his own ideas.

Surely, these traits have been imbibed or are already instilled in the healthcare profession.

 The Publication

Yet, those who think that all is rather cumbersome and complicated, may ask “Why then should one publish research?”. Kurpad AV[5] in a guidance to general medical practitioners lists several reasons while encouraging them to publish. Publications can increase a practitioner's visibility by featuring in peer reviewed scientific literature, thereby enhancing one's professional standing. The quality of the paper, it's impact factor and citations are a measure of a medical practitioner's success in turn leading to professional advancement.

Publish or perish is a common adage in academic circles, especially in the West, leading to considerable professional stress. In occupational health practice, however, one does not have to perish in the quest of a publication, though it certainly improves one's credibility.


This editorial is a compilation of the author's thoughts expressed at the Golden Jubilee Oration of the 70th Annual Conference of the Association of Occupational Health, Karnataka in September 2021. My colleague, Dr. Sakthi Arasu in particular, and other members of the association have to be credited for provoking discussion that polished the ideas. Gratitude also to Dr. Shyam Pingle, Senior Occupational Health Specialist and Adjunct Professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, Gandhinagar for his valuable inputs.


1LabourNet Services India Private Limited, AFIH Doctors - Medical Officer Required PAN India. Available from [last accessed 4th October 2021].
2Toledo-Pereyra LH. Ten Qualities of a Good Researcher. J Invest Surg 2012;(4):201-2.
3Syed I. 12 personal attributes of a successful researcher. Available from: {Last acessed on 4th October 2021].
4Regoniel PA. 5 Qualities of a Good Researcher. Available from: [Last accessed on 4th October 2021].
5Kurpad AV. Structure of a scientific manuscript: How to write title, introduction, subjects and methods, results, discussion, conclusion and references. In: Shankar NPS. Practitioners Guidance Series XVII. Scientifc Writing. Karnataka Medical Council, 2021 pp16-24. Avilable from: [Last accessed on 4th October 2021].