An occupational health nurse is one who works outside of a hospital, usually in an industrial or large commercial setting and is concerned with the health and well being of employees. It is useful for registered nurses who want to become an OHN to try and gain experience in an accident and emergency setting or GP/MD nursing. Learning about health and safety regulations such as manual handling or understanding the issues involved in long term sick employees returning to work will all give a solid indication of your desire to pursue occupational health nursing.
Occupational and environmental health nursing is different to medical or palliative care because the focus is on the promotion of health, prevention of injury and illness, promotion of a safe and healthy working environment and protection from potential hazards in the workplace. It is a specialty practice that doesn’t deal with patients but works for the good of employees.
Occupational health nursing plays an important part of public health strategies and is influenced and governed by health and safety as well as health regulations.
To be an occupational health nurse you need to be a registered nurse and then gain the Certificate of Occupational Health Nursing. To qualify as a registered nurse you need to obtain an Associate, Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Hospital diploma degree so you will start with a high school diploma and follow the path best suited to you.
Once a RN, you can choose to become an occupational health nurse by qualifying for the COHN. The COHN is obtained by taking an exam after having gained a minimum of 3,000 hours of experience in occupational health or by having completed a certificate program in occupational health nursing.
There are two certificate options – COHN and COHN-S. COHN is for registered nurses who wish to continue providing care and COHN-S (specialist) is for registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree who work as coordinators, advisors and case managers with little emphasis on direct care-giving.
It’s important for OHNs to keep up with the legal and professional changes associated with public health and occupational health and safety and they must apply for re-certification every five years. Recertification is dependent on a nurse still working in the field or continuing their education.
The salary of an occupational health nurse ranges from $55,000 to $85,000 with the majority earning between $62,000 and $76,000.
As occupational health nursing is delivery of health services to employees, most jobs will be outside hospitals and clinical settings, although large hospitals may have OHNs attached to the human resources team or in their own department. OHNs can also work in industrial settings such as car plants or food manufacturing plants or in commercial environments such as a call center or large insurance company. The sort of organizations that will have a call for occupational health nursing are ones where the actual work may involve an element of risk or where there are a large number of employees. Many employers are seeing the benefits that occupational health nurses can bring to their organization by reduced absence and sickness, less stress related time off work and prevention of accidents.
As an occupational health nurse you will play a lead role in employee health in the workplace and typical work activity includes
Being an occupational health nurse is an interesting way of using medical training for the good of health outside a clinical setting.