Occupational Health Psychology

This MSc specialisation draws upon and integrates knowledge of several disciplines in psychology, with a clear focus on workers and their work setting.

Are you interested in the new but rapidly developing area within psychology, Occupational Health Psychology (OHP)? “OHP concerns the application of psychology to improving the quality of work life and to protecting and promoting the safety, health and well-being of workers” (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH). OHP is designed to address the contemporary societal concerns for occupational health and safety. The term ‘health’ in ‘occupational health psychology’ does not only include workers’ physical state, but also emotional, cognitive, motivational and behavioural aspects.

Interdisciplinary

The OHP master’s programme in Leiden includes courses from three disciplines in psychology: health psychology, social and organisational psychology and applied cognitive psychology. Besides the mandatory courses students can choose an internship position, a thesis subject and several electives of their own interest within these various disciplines in psychology. In this way students are able to choose specific topics depending on their own interest and ambitions. The integrative approach and the combination of theory with analysis of realistic case studies make the master’s specialisation in Occupational Health Psychology at Leiden University unique and useful for a wide range of careers.

Scientist-practitioner model

The master’s programme in psychology gives you insight into in-depth study of theory and on the acquisition of professional and research skills. The distinctive feature of the Leiden programme is that its reaching is not restricted to only the functioning of psychological processes of work and health. Within a scientist-practitioner model these insights are always connected to their behavioural consequences. In this way, not only do you develop your knowledge of psychology as a science, you also learn to apply this knowledge. You learn to analyse problems and to develop effective interventions for dealing with these problems.

Aim of the programme

The major aim of the Occupational Health Psychology programme is to equip you with advanced training in research methods and professional skills. This will prepare you both for a career involving psychological research as well as for the application of scientific knowledge and methods in various professional settings.

Professional skills

This specialisation provides you advanced training in practical skills for interventions in the field of work and health. This includes: the acquisition of principles and methods relevant to, for instance:

  • Health promotion and stress prevention in the workplace (worksite health promotion)
  • Management of social psychological issues in organisational behaviour (e.g. leadership, motivation, dealing with diversity)
  • Risk management of organisational accidents (engineering a safety culture)
  • Optimisation of performance and work productivity (e.g. cognitive enhancement)

Research skills

In line with the profile of Leiden University as a research-intensive institution, the teaching programme is based on state-of-the art scientific research. It maintains a strong emphasis on the acquisition of academic and research skills. Training is provided in all relevant skills, including:

  • Reviewing the relevant literature
  • Applying theoretical knowledge to analyse practical problems
  • Developing hypotheses and writing research proposals
  • Designing and carrying out empirical studies
  • Designing and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions
  • Conducting advanced statistical analyses
  • Presenting results and recommendations

Master details

  • This is a specialisation of: Psychology
  • Degree Master of Science in Psychology
  • Mode of study Full-time
  • Duration 1 year
  • Start date September and February
  • Language of instruction English
  • Location Leiden
  • Croho/isat code 66604

What our alumni say

Dolf van der Beek, MSc

“Quality of work is a complex domain with issues that are only resolved by applying know-how from various disciplines in psychology.

“What’s good about this master’s? The topic, of course, and its multidisciplinary nature. I have always been interested in the relationship between work and the safety, health and well-being of people at work. Quality of work is a complex domain with issues that are only resolved by applying know-how from various disciplines in psychology. And you learn that in Occupational health psychology.

A short time after my master’s degree, I started working for the ‘Health and Safety at Work Department’ of TNO Quality of Life in Hoofddorp. I do research and consultancy work here, investigating the causes of health and safety risks. When consulting, I work as an internal auditor, trainer or process supervisor in interventions aimed at creating a safe and healthy organisation.

Currently I’m working on a number of projects. I’m looking at how we can make unskilled workers more aware of hazards at work. I’m also conducting an observational study into team performance in the paediatric cardiac surgery department in a hospital and I’m leading a project looking at job demands in our own team.

Looking back, I know I made the right choice with the Occupational health psychology master’s! I’m a practical person, and at TNO you do applied research, so that fits well. This master’s has much the same practical approach, and to my mind that’s unique.”

Evelien Luijt, MSc

“I became a Senior Career Specialist, which I still am. This job entails that I mediate with regard to management positions and that I function as a career counsellor.”

What was your motivation to choose this master specialization?
During my bachelor I was convinced that I would do the master Social and Organizational Psychology. I liked those courses best, and I did not want to proceed in one of the clinical masters. During the master-information market I happened to walk past the Occupational Health Psychology stand. After reading the flyer I decided to enroll myself for the OHP master instead, since this master combined Social and Organizational psychology with Health- and Cognitive psychology. This combination was very appealing to me.

What are the most important things you have learned during your master?
This master was very informative, with a broad perspective. I learned for instance about the influence of stress at work, but also about how to promote healthy eating behaviors in the company canteen. I chose to do elective courses that focused on human error, where I learned about the human errors behind major and minor incidents (I still tell these stories on birthdays sometimes).

How do you look back upon your master?
At the time the master was very small, which made it easy to socialize. There was a lot of personal contact. For instance, there was a Christmas dinner and we often drank coffee together at the faculty. I look back upon the master with great pleasure; I learned a lot, had a lot of fun and gained a lot of useful knowledge.

Where did you do your internship, and how was it?
I did my internship at NedTrain (a company that maintains the trains in the Netherlands). I conducted an interesting and valuable research on the safety behavior of the mechanics. Conducting a research in this area was new to NedTrain, and it required some adaptability. Furthermore, my internship was an educational experience, and I learned what the working life is about.

Where have you worked since your graduation, and where are you currently working? And how did you find this job?
After graduating, I uploaded my CV on Monsterboard, and soon I was approached by my current employer (Balans Selective B.V.). Within a month I signed a contract and started working as an intermediary. After six years I still work at Balance, and have fulfilled multiple positions in the company. After 2 years of being an intermediary, I became the site manager of the department in Leiden. After this I became a Senior Career Specialist, which I still am. This job entails that I mediate with regard to management positions and that I function as a career counsellor.

What do you hope to attain career-wise?
I like the recruitment business very much, because there is a lot of personal contact with different people, and you visit a lot of different companies. Still, it still is attractive to me to do something else with my OHP master. It seems nice to me to someday work in a department where advice is given and policy developed to create a healthy work environment for employees.

What advice would you like to give to future OHP students?
My advice will be: start early before graduating with thinking about what you want to do.

Evelien Luijt (master’s student 2007/2008)

Gert-Jan Kamps, MSc

“I now realize that all these scientific exercises and assignments are a great way to prepare yourself for a job in the work field you see yourself working in later.”

What was your motivation to choose this master specialization?
After finishing my Bachelor Psychology at the University of Groningen I became particularly interested in cognitive information processing and its effects on human behaviour. I wanted to specialize myself in the safety science aspects of psychology, human error in particular. At Leiden University, the master Occupational Health is an ideal program with the right electives to cover all the relevant scientific fields that play a role in achieving a safe work environment. With the science-practioner model I learned to translate scientific knowledge into practical applications.

What are the most important things you have learned during your master? And how do you look back upon your master?
I now realize that all these scientific exercises and assignments are a great way to prepare yourself for a job in the work field you see yourself working in later. My advice would be to take them seriously and try to see the usefulness for companies you will work with later, which were in my case healthcare systems, chemical factories and rail transportation companies.

Where did you do your internship, and how did you like it?
My first steps in the work field were within the iPatientSafety Project as an intern. During a guest lecture from the iPatientSafety Project about medical incident investigation I became interested in the topic of applying psychology in safety initiatives to prevent medical incidents from (re)occurring. With the iPatientSafety Project I worked with several US-based hospitals and developed high quality prospective risk analyses on topics such as alarm management and patient falls. Working in such a multidisciplinary project in a geographically distributed team gave me a lot of energy. It also gave me the insight that as an Occupational Health Psychologist you really can make a difference and help develop truly practical applications of human information processing knowledge to make work environments much, much safer.

Where have you worked since your graduation, and where are you currently working? And how did you find this job / these jobs?
Currently, I work as a human factors consultant at Intergo after I was introduced by a former classmate within the company (I was not always aware of it, but you are building your professional network during your studies as well!). I am now responsible for integrating scientific knowledge about human cognition and human behaviour into safety improvement initiatives in a structural manner.

How do you like your current job?
The most challenging aspect of my work is to translate my knowledge into realistic solutions for our customers. In an academic environment, as a student, you are not confronted with budgets, multidisciplinary teams and the need to let go of your scientific vocabulary in meetings with customers. I really enjoy working on the safety and health puzzle in different kinds of industries.

What advice would you like to give to future OHP students?
My best advice would be not hesitate to contact companies and professionals during your studies to talk about how you can apply your knowledge in the ‘real world’ and what sort of job description comes with that.

Gert-Jan Kamps (Master’s student 2012/2013)

Wideke Vijverberg, MSc

“My job was a continuation of my internship. I found my internship by sending an unsolicited application.”

What was your motivation to choose this master specialization?
I was looking for a master with diversity. The other masters were focusing on only one discipline of psychology. The OHP master combines multiple disciplines, namely social and organizational psychology, cognitive psychology and health psychology.

What are the most important things you have learned during your master?
The most important thing I learned was the level of thinking, and the way you should handle things. The workgroups were very interesting due to the practical approach. I also found it very interesting to look at an employee from different perspectives (health psychology, human error, group dynamic, organizational structures, etc.) Furthermore, during my master I developed an idea about what I wanted to do in the future. I found out I wanted to help organizations to improve the way they organize and handle issues.

How do you look back upon your master?
Satisfied. I am very glad I chose this master. The employee in his/her working environment was the central topic during this master, and the knowledge I gained regarding this topic is useful in every real-life working situation.

Where did you do your internship, and how did you like it?
I did my internship at an organizational consultancy agency in Utrecht, Andersson Elffers Felix (AEF). I assisted in the execution of advisory processes in different organizations. By doing this, I had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes in different organizations, and I expanded my view of working life. What options are there? What is going on? What do I like? I have had a great time during this internship. I had nice colleagues and interesting assignments. I liked it so much that I started to work in this agency as a junior consultant.

Where have you worked since your graduation, and where are you currently working?
After I graduated (February 2008) I started to work at AEF, and I have worked there until June 2011. After this I moved to Sint Maarten with my boyfriend, and I still live there. In February 2012 I started to work for the government of Sint Maarten at the department of Interior and Kingdom Relations. This department is responsible for the program management of multiple cooperation programs that are funded by Dutch development funds. I started to work as a project manager and now I work as a program manager of the program “institutional strengthening of government capacity”, which consists of 15 projects.

How did you find this job / these jobs?
My job at AEF was a continuation of my internship. I found my internship by sending an unsolicited application. I found AEF on the ROA website (Raad voor Organisatie Adviseurs). I found my job in Sint Maarten with the help of people in my network and one of my colleagues at AEF. AEF had done an assignment in Sint Maarten, and therefore they knew some key people who led me to this job.

How do you like your current job?
I like it very much! It is a very diverse job with a lot of responsibility, which makes it interesting. A lot of good things are accomplished which makes the job rewarding. I have to work hard, and sometimes people don’t cooperate with you, but that makes it challenging.

What do you still hope to achieve regarding your career?
This is a difficult question. At a certain point in time I will return to the Netherlands, and then I will have to look for another job. This will probably be a job in the area of consultancy, with a focus on change processes, implementation and behavior. For me it is hard to indicate what I would like to achieve in the long term. I think coaching is a nice profession, but it is something I would like to get into later on in my career. To me it also seems a nice challenge to go to another country for a few years at a later point in time. Currently, everything is still open.

What advice would you like to give to future OHP students?
Make the most of it. I liked my master better than my Bachelor, because the master only addressed topics I found interesting. Also see whether there is a possibility to become a student assistant (studentassistentschap) – I learned a lot from it. And if there is a possibility to do your internship abroad, seize the opportunity. I did not do my internship abroad, but I have learned a lot from my experiences in Sint Maarten, and I would recommend anybody to go abroad.

Wideke Vijverberg (master’s student 2006/2007)

Benjamin Hokken, MSc

“Eventually I decided to do Occupational Health Psychology, since in my opinion this master combines health and business very well.”

What was your motivation to choose this master specialization?
At the beginning of the bachelor I was mostly interested in Social and Organizational psychology, and I wanted to go into business. It was clear to me that I was not interested in a clinical or a statistical master specialization. As the study progressed I got in touch with courses in the area of Health psychology, and found them very interesting.

What are the most important things you have learned during your master?
During this master I learned how to map the physical, mental and emotional well-being of employees; know when someone works in the right place; both the short-term and long-term effects of a certain job or behaviour, and what to do against it; and how to build a good intervention in order to improve health and well-being.
How do you look back upon your master?
To me the master was the nicest year of my education. During the bachelor there are sometimes courses you are less interested in, but during the master there were plenty possibilities to choose courses of other master specializations. For instance, I took some courses of Cognitive psychology on the topic of ergonomics. In this way, you can create a master that suits you best.

Where did you do your internship, and how did you like it?
I did my internship at TNO Defence and Safety (Defensie en Veiligheid) in Soesterberg. During this internship I conducted a research on communication systems between different divisions of the army. This internship was not exactly what I wanted to do, but it gave me a good view of research in the area of psychology.

Where have you worked since your graduation, and where are you currently working?
Four years ago I started working at Lifeguard. Lifeguard is an organization that carries out health interventions in companies in order to promote vital and energetic working among employees. Currently, I am still working there.

How did you find this job / these jobs?
First I thought about what I really looked for in a job. I liked the health promotion interventions the most during the master, and I liked to do sports myself as well. I looked for jobs that combined this on google, and this is how I found this company.
How do you like your current job?
Good, in my current position I combine thinking and doing. We often create new programs and we are constantly looking for improvement. I implement these programs in the workplace of the client.

What do you still hope to achieve regarding your career?
My wish is to start my own organization within this line of work. I have already taken the first steps in that direction, and now I hope it will bloom into something successful.

What advice would you like to give to future OHP students?
Try to map what you are interested in and what motivates you. Look for the combination of courses during the master that matches this. Do what you like most, and you will end up fine!

Benjamin Hokken (master’s student 2008/2009)

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