Preventative medicine is not just a practice philosophy. It is also a genuine medical specialty that occupies that hazy space between clinical practice and public health. Both the American Board of Medical Specialties and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education recognize the preventive medicine specialty.
Preventative medicine has been characterized as one of the best medical specialties doctors have never heard of. So little is known about it that med students hearing about it for the first time are somewhat skeptical. A little bit of research reveals that the specialty is real and well worth pursuing for doctors who are interested in what it entails.
Those already involved in preventative medicine often describe it as a specialty with many faces. In other words, the doctor has a lot of different options once training and residency is complete. Below are just a few of the possibilities that make up the many faces of the preventive medicine specialty.
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According to the American College of Preventive Medicine, the specialty revolves around three core practices. The first is aerospace practice. Doctors who pursue this form of preventative medicine work with people in the aerospace industry to support their health and safety. These are people whose jobs have them working as crew members or passengers of air and space vehicles.
These kinds of workers are subject to all sorts of stresses the average healthcare consumer is not. Doctors work with them in remote environments in an attempt to improve the safety of what they do. Doctors seek to find the perfect balance between human capabilities and the machines humans work with to ensure optimal health and well-being for their patients.
The second core area of preventative medicine is occupational practice. As the name implies, occupational practice focuses on looking after the health of workers so that they have the ability to continue working. Most of what doctors in this field do is directly related to environmental exposure. In other words, they study what patients are exposed to in the workplace and then work on ways to ensure good health and safety. Occupational practice also heavily emphasizes preventing work-related injuries and illnesses.
Public Health and General Practice
Last but not least is public health and general practice. This area of preventative medicine sees a lot of overlap between public health initiatives and defined populations. Doctors practice in settings that have them working on improving the public health by preventing disease, managing at-risk populations, and engaging in ongoing research.
This third field of practice offers preventive medicine doctors the widest selection of employment opportunities. Upon completion of residency, the newly established preventative medicine doctor may find him or herself:
- working for the CDC on an epidemic response team;
- working with the World Health Organization to develop policy;
- working with the U.S. military to prevent disease as a result of overseas deployments;
- working with the local health department to prevent local outbreaks; or
- working with a research facility in an effort to find new ways to combat preventable disease.
These five possibilities barely scratch the surface of preventative medicine. As a specialty, preventative medicine offers a wide range of opportunities suitable to just about every practice preference.
If preventative medicine is a specialty you have never heard of before, you’ve now been made aware of it. In order to enter the specialty, you must complete an accredited residency program of at least one year. You might want to look into it – whether you’re hoping to switch specialties, or you are just getting started on your training journey.