Passion for Occupational Health: Unveiling the Journey of Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar (Part 1)

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar's Journey in Occupational Medicine
Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar, MBBS, LFOM (RCP Ireland), PGDEOH, AFIH, MНА Senior Manager- Medical, Safety Heath & Environment Goa Shipyard Limited, Ministry of Defence
Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar, MBBS, LFOM (RCP Ireland), PGDEOH, AFIH, MНА Senior Manager- Medical, Safety Heath & Environment Goa Shipyard Limited, Ministry of Defence

Let's delve into the journey of Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar, MBBS, LFOM (RCP Ireland), PGDEOH, AFIH, MНА Senior Manager- Medical, Safety Heath & Environment Goa Shipyard Limited, Ministry of Defence - a respected occupational health physician whose commitment to the profession has positively impacted the lives of numerous people. Here, Himani Negi, Vithya Manoharan and Priya Bairagi engage in an enlightening conversation with Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar.

Himani Negi: Hello Sir, before delving into your journey. We would appreciate it if you could introduce yourself to our audience.

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar: Hello, I’m Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar, an Occupational Health Physician. Currently, I am working as a Senior Manager – Medical & Safety, Health, and Environment at Goa Shipyard Limited, Ministry of Defence. I completed my MBBS from Goa Medical College and Hospital. Later, I pursued an Associate Fellowship in industrial health from the Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, Mumbai, I also hold a postgraduate diploma in Environment and Occupational Medicine. I have recently been awarded the Licentiateship of Faculty of Occupational Medicine (LFOM) from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. I also have a Master's in Hospital Administration.

I've been working with the medical department of Goa Shipyard for 9 years. Before this, I worked in other multinational companies, such as mining and manufacturing industries, wherein my role was primarily occupational medicine.

Priya Bairagi: Can you tell us about the field of occupational medicine?

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar: When we talk about occupational medicine, we basically speak about the well-being of the employees at work, how best they can be protected from any hazards at work, and what best can be done for them to have a healthy work-life as well as a balanced social life.

Priya Bairagi: Can you tell us about your journey in the field of occupational medicine and what motivated you to pursue this career?

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar: I would like to begin by stating that ‘I am here by choice and not by chance.’ The moment I completed medical school, I immediately joined a mining firm to understand the medical problems encountered when employees are working in physically challenging situations. I was very keen on understanding the workforce, especially in India, which has a growing working population base.

I focused on the working population, considering that it encompasses individuals from 18 years of age up to 60 or 65. Occupational medicine addresses the health of individuals in any occupation, recognizing that virtually everyone is engaged in some form of trade or profession.

Whenever we mention occupational health, we are considering individuals working in various sectors – be it a desk job, a chef in the hospitality industry, or a teacher in a school. Each occupation comes with its specific hazards. Working in the healthcare sector myself, I am exposed to certain risks at work. Each occupation involves understanding the risks that exist and working towards mitigating them, and it is this challenge that has kept me motivated and driven for the past several years in the field.

Initially, I began my journey in a mining company, later transitioning to a multinational mining corporation where I gained insights into processes like sponge iron production and large-scale manufacturing. I then ventured into the pressure vessel industry before finding my place in the shipbuilding sector where I am currently employed.

Throughout these years, I have realized that each industry exposes its workers to distinct hazards. As you delve deeper into each sector, you discover ways to prevent these hazards and alleviate the suffering of individuals. This is the essence of our work in this field.

In addition to addressing hazards, we also play a proactive role in promoting health at the workplace. With control over around 3000 employees, we have the opportunity to motivate and inspire them towards adopting healthy lifestyles and giving up harmful habits. Working in a closed environment allows us to monitor individuals throughout their careers, from the beginning of their professional journey until their retirement. This advantage enables us to reinforce the concept of a healthy workforce, contributing to a healthy working environment and a thriving population overall.

Himani Negi: This is a field that many people are not aware of, prompting my next question: a career in occupational medicine is an unconventional path, particularly after completing MBBS, where the typical trajectory involves preparing for NEET PG and pursuing a clinical field or engaging in clinical research. How did you enter this field, and what was your journey like? Did you take NEET PG or a similar exam to pursue this career? For those interested in entering this field, what qualities should they possess, what should be their areas of interest, and how can they navigate this path? If you could provide a brief overview of the career perspective in this field, it would be very helpful for aspiring individuals.

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar:  First and foremost, an Occupational Health Physician has a diverse role in the industry, right from clinical to consultative and administrative. I do see patients and treat them, but you also need to have managerial skills. It's very important that you are well-versed in public relations along with technology to know the latest trends in the respective industry you are working in and also identify hazards. Along with this, you also need to be clinically well-oriented because you need to assess the fitness for work after various medical conditions and interventions such as surgeries that the workers undergo.

In addition to clinical ailments, we need to proactively look after their wellness and also consider how to ensure a long and healthy journey with the company. We start by assessing the patients from the pre-employment stage. We then monitor their health by conducting periodic health checkups. After that, we have special medical examinations if somebody is ill and needs to come back to work. So, we need to reassess that patient to determine how to address any disability. If there is any disability, how can it be corrected, and how can we make it easier for them to come back to work by making the necessary adjustments at work? Or, how can we decrease sickness absenteeism in a particular industry? All of this involves a lot of human factors, a lot of empathy towards the patient in getting them back to work, and a lot of managerial skill, as I mentioned, to run these health-related programs it is mandatory to engage with the employees.

Whenever we talk about this field, first and foremost, you need to have your MBBS degree. After that, to practice in any factory, you need to have two years of clinical experience. Post that, you can apply for a fellowship program from the DGFASLI (Directorate General, Factory Advice and Labour Institutes) Mumbai. There are various regional centers all over the country where this fellowship program runs. The program is conducted once a year. Once you complete this

Fellowship program, you get the statutory certification necessary to work in any industry as per the Factories Act in India. In addition to that, there are several other qualifications you can pursue. There's a postgraduate diploma offered by IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) School of Interdisciplinary Sciences. There are several international degrees available in the field of occupational medicine, from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and London, and various other institutes worldwide. These are just a few of the degrees I have mentioned for getting into this field.

Himani Negi: Why did you choose a college in Ireland? Is there any specific reason for selecting that particular college?

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar: The Faculty of Occupational Medicine in Ireland is considered one on of the prominent institutes in occupational medicine. The postgraduate degrees from the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland are recognized internationally, making it a leading institute in occupational medicine worldwide. This is the reason why I chose to pursue my studies from the Royal College of Physicians, of Ireland. However there is no full time Post Graduate Degree/ Diploma in Occupational Medicine in India that is recognised by the National Medical Council of the country.

Vithya Manoharan: You were the President of the Indian Medical Association, Bardez Goa ,so what do you think are your key achievements during your tenure?

Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar: Being the President of the Indian Medical Association branch in Goa was one of the most important moments in my career. We were able to engage in a variety of activities within the Indian Medical Association, including various community outreach programs such as camps for all age groups, ranging from children to adults, with a special focus on the elderly such as old age home visits. We had also done lot of dissemination of knowledge for the general public in the form of street plays. Our initiatives also involved wellness initiatives for doctors and their families via events like the cycle rides, awareness walks, etc. TB awareness rally on bikes, and candle walks for various awareness campaigns, such as glaucoma awareness.

All these activities aimed to motivate the public and spread information about health and well-being.

Await Part 2, where Dr. Vishwaraj Mhalshekar discusses about work-life balance, implementation of occupational health programs in organizations, future of occupational health and current trend of Occupational Health in India.

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