How to Become a Certified Occupational Health Nurse

Overview

A certified occupational health nurse treats work-related health problems and injuries. As a certified occupational health nurse, you may provide health care services to a variety of workers such as: miners, construction workers, factory personnel, office staff, etc. Moreover, you may develop prevention plans that lower the risk of work-related illnesses and injuries and train employees on risk management. Furthermore, you may be required to inspect various job sites to make sure that companies are adhering to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

In order to be a certified occupational health nurse, you must first practice as a nurse practitioner or a registered nurse (R.N.). You must also have received a master’s degree in the field of nursing. According to the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (2013), occupational health nurses can obtain certification in one of the following areas: Certified Occupational Health Nurse or Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist.

  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN)

If you decide to become certified as an occupational nurse (COHN), you will need to be a registered nurse (R.N.), with at a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field of nursing. With this certification you will be responsible for providing direct care to patients. 

  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse – Specialist (COHN-S)

If you decide to become certified as an occupational health nurse-specialist, you will need to be a registered nurse (R.N.), with a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) in the field of nursing. With this certification, you will primarily function as a coordinator, case manager, social worker and/or advisor rather than as a nurse, who is directly responsible for patient care.

Educational Requirements

Your educational requirements will depend largely on previous education and experience. For instance, if you are already an occupational health nurse, you will need to have basic nursing training and an associate’s degree (A.A.), bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or a clinical nursing diploma before you will be eligible for certification. You will also need to successfully pass the certification exam. Moreover, if you are already a nurse practitioner, you will need to have a master’s degree (M.A.) and successfully pass the certification exam.

As a certified occupational health worker you may function as a corporate nurse, clinical nurse, nurse educator, clinical nurse manager or director and/or nurse consultant. You may also be required to complete National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health training from an approved training program. Furthermore, once you have received your certification, you will need to be licensed by your state in the field of occupational health nursing before you will be able to practice.

  • Certification

If you decide to further your career by seeking certification, you will need to either obtain at least 3,000 clinical hours as an occupational health nurse or complete an occupational health care certificate program. If you are a registered nurse (R.N.), who is seeking a COHN-S, you can become certified if you have a master’s degree (M.A.) in the area of occupational health. The certification exams (COHN and COHN-S) are computer-based tests that consists of approximately 150 multiple choice questions in the areas occupational health and nursing.

  • Recertification

Once you are certified as a COHN or COHN-S, you will be responsible for maintaining your certification. You need to complete continuing education courses in occupational health nursing every 5 years in order to be recertified.

Job Description

As a certified occupational health nurse, your duties will include the following: 

  • Lowering the risk of work-related health problems and injuries.
  • Identifying the adverse health effects of working in various industries and tailoring treatment and prevention plans to counter those effects.
  • Observing individuals in their work environment in order to ensure that the company is adhering to government standards and regulations in the areas of: industrial hygiene, engineering controls and protective gear.
  • Monitoring a worker’s medical history by conducting diagnostic assessments and physical examinations on him/her on a regular basis
  • Detecting medical abnormalities and determining whether or not they were caused by poor working conditions.

Salary Prospects

You can expect to make on-average approximately $65,000 per year as a certified occupational health nurse. If you are in the lower 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $ 44,000 per year and if you are in the upper 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $95,000 per year (bls.gov). According to PayScale.com (2013), certified occupational health nurses earned between $41,000 and $81,000 during 2011.

You may be required to evenings, nights, weekends and/or holidays. Moreover, there may be times when you will have to work overtime and/or be on-call. When you are on-call you have to come into work, if asked, even if it is your day off or it is short notice. If you work at a doctor’s office or school, you will more than likely work regular business hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), approximately 25% of certified occupational health nurses work part-time. 

Job Outlook

The job outlook for certified occupational health nurses is excellent, overall. This future job growth can be attributed to the high turnover rate in hospitals, especially in the area of nursing. Due to the high turnover rate, you may benefit from sign-on bonuses, flexible schedules and/or educational training programs. It is important to note that you may experience more competition if you seek employment at a doctor’s office or outpatient care facility because these jobs tend to offer comfortable working conditions and regular hours.

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