What is the Difference Between an Occupational Nurse and a Home Health Nurse?

The Basics

Just as there are various types of specialization in which a physician may concentrate his or her practice; e.g., pediatricians, podiatrists, dermatologist, etc., registered nurses (RN) may also choose one particular area to focus their careers, too.

Occupational nursing is one such type of nursing specialty in which RNs develop and teach health and safety programs to certain communities and populations of workers. Home health nursing is another type of specialty in which RNs deliver professional care to patients within those patients’ homes.

While both occupational nurses and home health nurses work outside of the hospital, which is the most typical work setting for nurses, there are numerous differences between the two professions.

Education Requirements 

Occupational Nurse

In order to be accepted into a nursing degree program, occupational nurses must first hold a high school diploma or GED. The next step in completing their education requirements is to earn either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which typically takes a total of four years, or earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), which usually takes no longer than two years.

After finishing the nursing degree program, an occupational nurse must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination or the NCLEX-RN. The purpose of this exam is to verify that a newly graduated nurse is adequately prepared and ready to safely begin providing nursing care at an entry-level.

However, the requirements to be an occupational nurse are not yet fulfilled once the NCLEX-RN is passed and an official license to practice is obtained. As the position is not an entry-level one, most employers may require candidates to have at least two years of clinical nursing experience and/or have completed additional training through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH.

Home Health Nurse

Like an occupational nurse, home health nurses must first earn a high school diploma or GED in order to apply and receive acceptance into a nursing degree program. Home health nurses also have the choice between attending a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program or a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing program.

After completing the nursing program, home health nurses must then earn official license for practice by verifying their competency and preparedness to safely practice as a professional nurse and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Once licensure is obtained, home health nurses may then begin providing nursing care to patients within their homes.

Job Duties

Occupational Nurse

Occupational nurses deliver a variety of services to employee populations within that populations’ given occupational workplace. By providing on-site checkups, basic health screenings, and first aid to employees of the company through which one is employed, occupational nurses act as an essential line of defense for corporations who wish to protect themselves from worker’s injury and compensation lawsuits.

Occupational nurses may also develop certain policies for a company such as its protocol for managing employee illnesses, sick days, and mandatory recovery time. In order to provide these types of counsel, an occupational nurse must be knowledgeable of the health and safety standards particular to their company’s given industry, and also, of any federal and/or state legislation regarding that industry.

An occupational nurse may also be responsible for assessing any risks and occupational hazards, devising and implementing safety protocol plans, and finally, training employees how to best avoid and protect themselves from injury by following proper occupational procedures.

Home Health Nurse

Providing care to patients within those patients’ own homes, a home health nurses perform a wide range of tasks.

Before visiting the home of a patient for the first time, a home health nurse meets with that patient’s physician to learn of his or her needs and to coordinate an appropriate plan for care. Next, upon arrival to a patient’s home, the home health nurse will begin care by asking the patient how they feel, assessing his or her immediate physical condition, taking the patient’s vitals, and administering any necessary prescription medications.

Since most home health care patients are largely immobile, a home health nurse is responsible for locating bed sores, caring for and cleaning wounds, and changing bandages as needed. A home health nurse also charts each patient’s condition in order to provide his or her physician with an accurate progress and wellness report, and propose recommendations and updates regarding the patient’s medications and overall strategy for care.

Work Environment

Occupational Nurse

Out of all the various environments in which registered nurses may work, the possible settings of occupational nurses are perhaps the most diverse. Occupational nurses work at a wide assortment of locations for different trades and businesses; such as industrial factories, manufacturing facilities and assembly lines where heavy machinery is used, chemical plants, airports, and large-scale construction sites.

While it is obvious why the presence of an occupational nurse is necessary in these environments involving industrial equipment and manual labor, many occupational nurses may also work in office settings. The sedentary nature and lifestyle associated with office work poses its own set of risks and health complications for employee safety and overall wellness. For example, typing for hours every day can cause painful hand and wrist conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and staring at a computer day after day can cause vision problems due to the blue light emitted from the screen and the relatively short distance between the computer and the eyes of the user.

Working indoors and under florescent lights for forty or more hours a week can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns, and finally, sitting for prolonged periods of time can cause back problems and cardiovascular diseases.

Home Health Nurse

One of the advantages to home health nursing as opposed to other areas of nursing is that these professionals are not limited to working inside one single location; i.e., a hospital or doctor’s office. Home health nurses enjoy providing their patients with nursing care as guests inside of their individual homes.

While some home health nurses may care for solely one patient, others might visit several patients in one day, traveling across town to their different places of residence. Additionally, as many home health nurses are also responsible for performing errand-related tasks such as grocery shopping and/or driving patients to and from doctor’s appointments, there is a great deal of flexibility in the day-to-day work settings of a home health nurse.

However, not all home health nurses work in homes that are patient-owned. For example, some home health nurses work at patient residences that are located inside retirement neighborhoods, nursing homes, rehabilitation communities, and other types of residential care facilities.


Occupational Nurse

The average salary for an occupational nurse varies depending upon the city and state in which he or she practices. In fact, the geographic location of practice is the factor with perhaps the most significant impact on an occupational nurse’s annual salary—even more so than his or her professional experience.

For example, while the national yearly average for an occupational nurse rests around $72,000, Washington D.C. ranks as the highest paying city for occupational nurses with an average salary of $95,000 per year. On the other hand, Hawaii makes for the country’s lowest average salary for occupational nurses coming in around $48,000 per year.

Home Health Nurse

Just like the average salary for an occupational nurse, the yearly salary for a home health nurse also depends upon the city and state in which he or she practices. However, because home health nurses may exercise much more discretion regarding their own schedules, many work less than full-time and some home health nurses even work part-time.

Nevertheless, the national average for home health nurses, according to PayScale is approximately $59,000 per year.

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