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Alumni Spotlight: Maggie Cook-Shimanek

minute read

Our center stands on three pillars: Research, Education, and Practice. One of the many ways we strive to protect workers is by educating and training future leaders in occupational health and safety. We interviewed Maggie Cook-Shimanek, an occupational health physician working as the medical director for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

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How did you find yourself in the field of occupational safety and health?

While enrolled in the CU Public Health and General Preventive Medicine residency training program, I was introduced to the field of occupational medicine while rotating at National Jewish Health and the Denver Health Center for Occupational Safety and Health. I was instantly attracted to a model of clinical care dedicated to a defined population (e.g., the workforce). This specialty incorporated the population focus of public health and the clinical care of an individual patient, which was particularly appealing to me.

What attracted you to the MAP ERC program?

The people. I become acquainted with MAP ERC faculty and current residents during my Public Health and General Preventive Medicine residency rotations and was impressed by their seamless integration of population health and clinical expertise. Even before pursuing occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) training, I forged relationships that continue to develop to this day. One of my favorite annual conferences is the MAP ERC Research Day when residents provide poster and platform presentations discussing current research in their areas of professional interest and I can reconnect with faculty from the Center for Health, Work & Environment, and the residency training program.

What lessons did you learn by working with classmates outside of your program field in the MAP ERC?

The most important lesson learned from our interdisciplinary coursework was developing familiarity with the wide range and depth of complementary expertise among OSH professionals working towards the common goal of optimizing workplace safety and health. Coming out of residency training, I understood my discipline’s role among this larger professional team and started my career with some element of fluency in communicating with other OSH professionals, which confers distinct professional advantage directly out of training.

What is your current role/how does it apply to your training or field of study in OSH?

I currently work as the Medical Director for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which involves medical matters related to occupational injury and illness in the workers’ compensation system. I also work with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment with the Medical Treatment Guidelines program which are used in the workers’ compensation system. Since January of 2020, I have worked with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and assumed the role of Acting State Medical Officer in April of 2021. My professional roles each offer distinct perspectives on elements of OSH in both an individual and population-based capacity.

Were there major differences between how you’d use your training when you were a student compared to your current responsibilities?

When I was in training, I never anticipated how many professional opportunities my training would provide. Training in occupational safety and health develops skills and exposure that are unique and relevant to a variety of fields.

How has your training impacted the way you approach OSH?

I am not aware of other training programs with such a heavy emphasis on and offer practical experience in working with other OSH disciplines. This is strength of our program.

How has your current position impacted the larger body of workers, families, and communities?

I feel fortunate to have the unique opportunity to work in areas that potentially impact the individual through the appropriate administration of workers’ compensation benefits for occupational injury and illness and matters that have a population-level focus in the realm of public health.

What advice would you give future OSH trainees?

Actively promote our respective areas of safety and health expertise - highlight the importance of our collective specialties when discussing occupational safety and health matters and demonstrate the distinct advantages of working with an occupational safety and health professional.