Occupational Health Nurse: Job Description and Information

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become an occupational health nurse. Research the job duties and education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in occupational health nursing.

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Occupational Health Nurse Overview

Degree Level Associate or bachelor's
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and/or Certification Must pass the NCLEX-RN to become licensed; Certified Occupational Health Nurse credential is voluntary
Experience None
Key Skills Compassion; speaking, critical thinking, and listening skills; database, spreadsheet, word processing, and medical records software; use of medical monitoring equipment
Salary $71,546 (2020 median for occupational health nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, O Net OnLine, PayScale.com*

Occupational health nurses specialize in job-related wellness issues. They observe and assess workers' health related to required job tasks and possible hazards. They might work toward preventing negative health effects from dangerous exposures and often treat workers' illnesses or injuries in industries like manufacturing, construction, and meat packing. Nurses often spend many hours standing and might need to move or lift patients.

Occupational health nurses must be compassionate and have strong speaking, critical thinking, and listening skills. They also must be able to use database software; office software, such as spreadsheet and word processing; medical records software; and medical monitoring equipment. Payscale.com reported that occupational health nurses earned a median annual salary of $71,546 as of February 2020. Let's trace the steps to become an occupational health nurse.

Step 1: Get a Nursing Degree

Becoming a registered nurse (RN) is the first step to a career as an occupational health nurse. Candidates need to complete an associate or bachelor's degree program in nursing. Both options combine classroom and hands-on clinical studies and take two or four years to complete, respectively. Common courses of study include anatomy, psychology, physiology, nutrition, and basic medical procedures.

Responsibilities for occupational health nurses are generally equated with level of education and experience. Those who wish to provide advanced nursing might complete a master's degree program to specialize in this field. A 2-year Master of Science in Occupational Health Nursing program emphasizes job-related studies.

Step 2: Acquire Licensure

All U.S. nurses are required to be licensed. Passing the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) proves that individuals have the knowledge and skills necessary to work as a registered nurse. Additional state requirements, such as submitting to a background check or fingerprinting, might be required to earn licensure. Continuing education or documented experience in nursing generally qualifies RNs for license renewal.

Step 3: Earn Voluntary Certification

Becoming a Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) requires passing a certification examination administered through the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. Registered nurses can qualify for the COHN credential with experience or education in the field. The Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist option requires licensure as a registered nurse as well as a bachelor's degree and sufficient experience or education in occupational health. Each exam includes 150 multiple-choice questions encompassing knowledge of occupational and nursing safety and standards. Nurses with advanced degrees and certifications might have increased job opportunities. Continuing education in specialized fields can also provide additional opportunity for career advancement.

In summary, to become an occupational health nurse, you must complete a degree program in nursing and earn state licensure as a registered nurse. Voluntary certification and advanced education might improve your job prospects.

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