Have what it takes to be an Industrial Specialist?

Aug 11, 2016
Vic Zuccarello, OTR/L, CEAS II
Workers performing an on-site analysis

Misconceptions and truths:

The therapist said, “I didn’t know there was so much legal stuff involved with being an Industrial Specialist. I don’t think I want to do it….” This was a statement made by a one of my FCE course attendees in 2011. While a seasoned Industrial Specialist may view this position as overcautious, conservative, or naïve, this is an attitude pervasive in the healthcare community. And, for this therapist it may have been a supremely self-aware opinion. We are a rare breed…

Now, some healthcare professionals think that Industrial Rehabilitation professionals are over-specialized. They opine that the specialty is too narrow and that Industrial Specialists neglect other skills to work in this field. Not true. Industrial Specialists are not “one-trick ponies”. The field of industrial rehabilitation is a rich and unique blend of clinic based services (FCE, work hardening/conditioning, POETs, and fit-for-duty tests) and consulting services (job task analysis, ergonomics, onsite injury prevention, onsite rehabilitation, expert witness). This field requires the applied distillation of physical dysfunction, developmental disabilities, behavioral sciences, chemical and physical sciences, and sports sciences.


Ok, great! But, it’s not for everyone. Having done this for over 30 years, I can tell you that the people who make it in this field have: the patience of a Saint, the eye of a Detective, the ear of a Bartender, the cunning of a Chess Master, and the toughness and drive of a Navy Seal. As an Industrial Specialist, you have to manage patients with low incomes, chronic pain, and high emotions. They are usually, “lawyered-up” and you can find yourself in court having to defend your work – even when you performed your job proficiently. You walk a fine line between patient advocate and scientist – and telling your patient the truth can hurt.

Employer clients can be challenging as well and I’ve fired the client more than once because of poor ethics. They can be tough negotiators and workers’ compensation re-pricing network reimbursement can be very disappointing. And, there is always a competitor around the corner who will bash you and skimp on quality to provide a discount. But, cash is king and you often wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze.

“It’s not a job, it’s an adventure!”

So, the high points can be infrequent and some Specialists burn out causing them to leave the field to try to re-ignite skills long dormant in home health care or in a hospital setting. But I promise you, the effect you can have on the life and livelihood of your patient, client, and their families make your efforts as an Industrial Specialist worth it. Ah, the “win-win” of going back to work and staying there. And you will see some really interesting things. I’ve been on job sites from 37,000 feet in the air to 600 feet underground. I’ve watched the sun set on the river and rise over the mountains. I’ve experienced these things all in the same week. It’s been a great ride!

Who we are:

We come in all forms: male/female, young/old, rookie/experienced, domestic/foreign-born, red/yellow/brown/black/white, OT/PT/ATC/Ex. Phys./RN/DC. All can be successful. What counts is character!

Successful Industrial Specialists are:

  • honest,
  • evidence-based,
  • both intuitive and sensing,
  • good writers,
  • good speakers,
  • authoritative, not authoritarian,
  • good listeners,
  • comfortable in all settings: from the board room to the job site,
  • independent thinkers, and self-starters
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