Background: Occupational physicians can contribute to good management in healthy enterprises. The requirement to take into account the needs of the customers when planning occupational health services is well established.
Aims: To establish the priorities of UK employers, employees, and their representatives regarding the competencies they require from occupational physicians; to explore the reasons for variations of the priorities in different groups; and to make recommendations for occupational medicine training curricula in consideration of these findings.
Methods: This study involved a Delphi survey of employers and employees from public and private organisations of varying business sizes, and health and safety specialists as well as trade union representatives throughout the UK. It was conducted in two rounds by a combination of computer assisted telephone interview (CATI) and postal survey techniques, using a questionnaire based on the list of competencies described by UK and European medical training bodies.
Results: There was broad consensus about the required competencies of occupational physicians among the respondent subgroups. All the competencies in which occupational physicians are trained were considered important by the customers. In the order of decreasing importance, the competencies were: Law and Ethics, Occupational Hazards, Disability and Fitness for Work, Communication, Environmental Exposures, Research Methods, Health Promotion, and Management.
Conclusion: The priorities of customers differed from previously published occupational physicians' priorities. Existing training programmes for occupational physicians should be regularly reviewed and where necessary, modified to ensure that the emphasis of training meets customer requirements.