How to Become a Certified Occupational Health Nurse

What is an Occupational Health Nurse?

An occupational health nurse is a health professional who provides services to workplaces in a variety of industries and fields. They focus on maintaining, improving and re-establishing the health and safety of the workplace and the workers and usually work with individual clients or with the businesses as a whole.

They also assist workers with work related problems or injuries, helping them return to optimum functioning so they can get back to their daily routines and tasks. Occupational health nurses do not typically specialize, but work in a more general way helping workers and businesses improve their processes and procedures through education and direct interventions.

What is a Certified Occupational Health Nurse?

A certified occupational health nurse is a registered nurse who has taken and passed a certification examination. This represents a higher level of learning and competence in the areas of occupational and environmental nursing. Becoming certified in occupational nursing leads to a higher salary as well as greater responsibilities and higher expectations in the workplace. There are also further certifications that occupational health nurses can work towards once they have risen to this level in this career.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of an Occupational Health Nurse?

Occupational health nurses are responsible for making workplaces safer for employers and employees. They work with management and workers to improve processes and procedures so they can be performed efficiently and without causing harm. All workplaces contain hazards, and it is the job of the occupational health nurse to ensure that the danger of these hazards are reduced or eliminated completely.

One of their primary duties is to assess workplaces for potential hazards. To do this they investigate all aspects of working practices and equipment to check for potentially dangerous hazards and work procedures. This usually involves looking at how workers perform their task, the ergonomics of the workplace, and designing and implementing new practices. They also screen new employees through medical examinations and physical testing to ensure that they can do the job without injury or risk. The medical tests they perform includes blood tests, vision testing, drug or alcohol screening, hearing tests and physical examinations.

Occupational health nurses also work with employees to help them recover from accidents or injuries in the workplace. They help tend to their injuries, administer medication, and design a rehabilitation program for the worker. This may include activities and exercises that are meant to help the body heal any damage and return to normal functioning. Occupational health nurses will help the employee implement this program and perform any required therapies.

After these types of accidents the occupational health nurse will also investigate what caused the accident and make changes or recommendations to avoid the same problem in the future.

The final part of their job duties is to provide education and support to help workers and the employer adopt better practices at work and in life as a whole. This often includes implementing education programs, providing counseling on physical and mental health issues, conducting research on work practices and hazards, and developing disease prevention programs for the workplace. They are also responsible for overseeing and designing emergency and disaster procedures programs and practices and ensuring that all staff are educated and trained in the right thing to do in these kinds of situations.

Why are Occupational Health Nurses Important?

Occupational health nurses are important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they help to keep employees and other workers safe. This improves the workers’ productivity, increases their quality of life, and helps them avoid injuries or illnesses that could have a negative effect on their career and on their overall life.

Occupational health nurses also help the organizations they work with by ensuring that their workers remain healthy and helping them avoid expensive payouts as a result of injuries or accidents. They can also help make procedures and processes more efficient, which can save companies and workers a lot of wasted time.

What Do You Learn in an Occupational Health Nursing Degree Program?

Students in an occupational health nursing degree program learn a number of skills including the following:

  • Health Assessment: These medical professionals need to learn how to assess workers’ health and design a program that will improve their overall health as well as their ability to do their chosen job.
  • Health Hazard Identification: Occupational health nurses need to be able to identify health hazards in the work place and implement measures or practices that reduce or eliminate the danger of these hazards.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: To design programs to avoid or heal injury, these medical professionals need a detailed understanding of the body and how it reacts to disease or injury. They also need the ability to teach this knowledge to workers and employers.
  • Ergonomics: A big part of the duties and responsibilities of people in this occupation is to understand and if necessary improve the ergonomics of the workplace to prevent injury and to support workers in their assigned tasks.
  • Occupational Health: Occupational health carries with it specific responsibilities, issues and duties that these professionals need to understand in all aspects of their practices. That is why learning about this nursing field in general is an essential part of the degree program.
  • Occupational Health Treatments: Injuries and diseases in the workplace require specific treatments and therapies to return the worker to full functioning and people who work in this profession must understand and be able to implement these kinds of programs.
  • Health Program Planning: A big part of this occupation is avoiding health problems by planning and implementing health programs that improve the overall health of the workers. Occupational health nurses must have a good understanding of overall health and program planning to be able to perform this part of their job.
  • Counseling: As part of the rehabilitation of workers, occupational health nurses need to be able to counsel workers to ensure good mental health and improve their mental health practices so they can return to the workplace in good overall condition.
  • Pharmacology: In order to administer medication and screen for alcohol and drugs, professionals in this job need to have a good understanding of drugs and medications and the practices and procedures associated with them.

How Do You Become a Certified Occupational Health Nurse?

Educational Requirements

In order to  become an occupational health nurse, you will first have to register as a registered nurse. There are several pathways to gaining this type of qualification. The most common is for students to complete a Bachelor Degree in Nursing, but you may also complete an Associate’s Degree before applying to be registered.

An Associate’s Degree is a two year program that is the quickest way into the profession. However, job prospects and salary tend to be lower for people with this type of qualification. Admission into these courses can vary depending on the school but usually involves getting good grades in high school level math and science subjects. The Bachelor Degree in nursing takes 3-4 years full time and has similar but slightly higher entry requirements. The goal of these programs is to give students a good all-round understanding of the human body and the processes of illnesses and diseases.

Once students have completed this initial level of education they must pass an exam and register as a nurse. Upon registration, students can work in hospitals, clinics or other medical settings helping people cope with disease, assisting with surgery, or treating patients with a variety of medical or mental health issues.

After completing these programs, registered nurses who want to be occupational health nurses need to apply for the required certification.

Licensure Requirements

As mentioned above, before practicing as an occupational health nurse, practitioners need to be licensed registered nurses. The licensing requirements typically involve passing the National Council Licensure Exam and keeping up with all the requirements of this health body.

Certification Requirements

Registered nurses have to pass an exam offered by the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses before they can apply for work as certified occupational health professionals. There are several ways that they can become eligible for this exam. Firstly, they can complete a special occupational degree program either online or in person and apply to take the exam at the end of it. Or if they’ve been working as a registered nurse in the occupational health field for more than 3,000 hours they can apply for the exam based on their professional experience.

Where Does an Occupational Health Nurse Work?

Occupational health nurses work in a variety of environments. Some stay within the medical field and work in hospitals and clinics helping patients and staff avoid and recover from injury and illnesses. In this type of setting they also determine and enforce hospital safety procedures.

However, most occupational health nurses move outside of the medical environment and are employed by a variety of workplaces to improve their practices with both practical assistance as well as education and training. These medical professionals can work for a specific workplace or they can set up their own private practice and consult with a range of organizations.

What Skills are Needed to Be an Occupational Health Nurse?

Occupational health nurses need a range of hard and soft skills to perform their job duties. These include the following:

  • Medical understanding and experience: It is vital for occupational health nurses to understand the body as well as the processes of disease and illness to do their job well and to provide value for workers and organizations.
  • Medical procedures: Occupational health nurses need to be able to perform a range of medical procedures both to ensure that new employees are fit to do their job and to help workers recover from injury or disease.
  • Computer skills: Occupational health nurses need to have the skills to record medical information on computer programs, communicate with employers and staff over the internet, and to perform planning and research activities on the computer as well. This requires a high degree of specific computer skills.
  • Teaching skills: People in this profession need to be able to educate workers and organizations on best practices as well as inspire them to make changes that can support the health of the workers and improve work procedures at the same time.
  • Good communication skills: Occupational health nurses work in a range of environments with people from diverse backgrounds and they need to be able to understand the needs and concerns of everyone involved and to be able to work with them for better health and wellbeing.
  • Problem solving skills: One of the biggest elements of this job is to analyze potential hazards and design solutions that protect the workers while maintaining or improving working efficiency. To do this, advanced problem solving skills are necessary.
  • Physical coordination and fitness: This can be a very physical job that involves demonstrating good practices as well as assisting workers to build their own physical strength and ability to do their job. Why is why occupational health nurses need a high degree of physical coordination and dexterity.
  • Good observational skills: Good observational skills are required to visually assess workers and common work practices and procedures to perform health assessments and identify hazards.
  • Assertiveness: A high degree of personal assertiveness is need to be able to stand up to workers and employers who are stressed or frustrated as well as those who are resistant to change for a variety of reasons.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Occupational Health Nurse?

There are a number of advantages to being an occupational health nurse including the following:

  • Regular hours: Because these medical professionals do not usually work in the medical environment, their hours are more regular and tailored to the typical working week.
  • A variety of duties: Occupational health nurses work with organizations as well as individuals performing practical, education and theoretical duties. This means they have a good variety of duties and so will seldom get bored.
  • A good salary: This profession offers a good rate of pay and lots of opportunities for advancement both professionally and academically.
  • High demand: As companies search for safer and cheaper ways of doing things, this occupation is becoming more popular in a range of industries and environments. This means there are a lot of jobs for skilled Occupational Health Nurses and this trend promises to continue into the future.
  • Helping people: There is no better feeling than knowing you have helped someone feel better or made a positive impact on their working life. People in this position experience both of these feelings regularly.
  • Flexibility: Occupational health nurses can work in a range of industries and workplaces, which means they can work anywhere. This type of flexibility is rare and valuable.

The disadvantages to becoming an occupation health nurse include the following:

  • Potential for dangerous contact: These medical professionals may be removed from the hospital but can still come into contact with dangerous materials such as infectious substances, hazardous materials, or employees who have communicable diseases. They must be prepared for this and understand what precautions they need to take.
  • May be on-call: Although people in this profession usually enjoy more regular hours than other medical professionals they may still be on call in case of employee injury or illness.
  • Can be stressful: The demands put on occupational health nurses can be high, which can result in a lot of stress. These medical professionals must also work with employees who are ill or injured and so must be able to handle the negative emotions that can come from these types of problems.

How Much Does an Occupational Health Nurse Make?

An experienced and certified occupational health Nnrse can expect a very good yearly salary. According to Payscale, their yearly salary range from $49,000 to $87,000 a year with an average of $69,000 a year, though Indeed puts the average annual salary average at $72,313 a year.

The biggest influence on this pay rate is the medical professional’s geographical location, though their experience also pays a role in determining their pay rate. The hourly pay rate for this profession is between $22.42 and $40.83 a week. This may also be influenced by their workplace as people in this profession can work almost anywhere from a corporate environment to factories and primary industries.

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