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Healthcare Professionals Apply New Skills from the Certificate in Total Worker Health® Program to Their Daily Practice

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Written by Dee Akers on September 27, 2019

For Dr. Kathryn Buikema, MPH, DO, getting to the root cause of a patient’s injury or illness is only the beginning of her journey in providing comprehensive care. Her practice extends outside the walls of the clinic to the patient’s working environment by identifying and addressing workplace hazards and advocating for prevention first and foremost—skills she gained through the Certificate in Total Worker Health® program. 

The Certificate in Total Worker Health (TWH), developed and directed by faculty at the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health, offers students a thorough education in protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers. TWH has evolved from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as an approach addressing the policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being. It is emerging as the new frontier in how we address the rising rates of work-related injuries and illnesses as well as chronic health conditions in the workplace. 

Launched in 2017, the program has already trained ten students from various backgrounds. The program gives students in clinical programs the opportunity to build on their training by incorporating new approaches to assessing both work and lifestyle factors. By learning how the working environment, occupational health psychology, health promotion, leadership, and management contribute to worker safety, health, and well-being, Dr. Buikema has been able to effectively partner with both patients and employers to identify specific hazards and recommend appropriate interventions. 

"Physicians should find ways to go beyond the injury of the worker to suggest workplace interventions and prevention strategies that are affordable, respectful, and sustainable for the organization and the workplace," said Dr. Buikema. 

Noelle Dilgarde, a nurse practitioner, doctoral candidate, and current certificate student, has seen changes in her patients both in the clinic through test results as well as out of the office through texts and calls to relay their excitement about practicing healthier behaviors in the workplace. 

“Traditional provider education is very focused on textbook learning. The TWH certificate program has helped me be more creative with how I treat patients,” said Dilgarde.

A passion for prevention and the comprehensive approach to worker well-being is what initially drew both Dilgarde and Dr. Buikema to the TWH certificate program.

"We should be caring for the whole person instead of just treating their injuries and letting them go," said Dr. Buikema. 

The gap in services to address complex worker health issues is what inspired the creation of the TWH certificate program at the Center for Health, Work & Environment. Dr. Natalie Schwatka, a professor and co-director of the program based at the Center, explained the need for TWH to address worker health beyond traditional occupational health and safety education programs.   

"Our program gives these professionals a deeper understanding of the culture, leadership, stressors, and benefits of work that shape how healthy and safe people can be both on the job and when they return to their families. It also provides the communication skills to effectively help lead organizational change efforts." 

A deeper understanding of these TWH concepts and practices is what allowed Dilgarde and Dr. Buikema to advocate for and create the individual and organizational changes they've seen as a result of the changes in their practice. 

Starting this fall, the Certificate in Total Worker Health is offered exclusively online. Dr. Schwatka and fellow faculty believe there is growing demand from prospective students for more flexibility, especially professional students who are interested in gaining new skills in their current career or may be pursuing multiple degrees. 

"Whether out of state, in a rural area, or working full time, we can now meet the students where they are.”