Occupational medicine is one of the more recently accepted specialties and is best defined by the social context in which it is practiced. The current structure of the specialty is more easily understood in the light of its historical background. Occupational medicine brings together knowledge from a wide spectrum of disciplines which is reflected in its academic and research bases. A great variety of activities and environments are covered and this has posed problems in defining and organizing higher specialist training. Occupational considerations impact on almost every aspect of medical practice and there is a need for wider understanding of occupational medicine principles in the profession as a whole both in this country and abroad.