Occupational Health Nurse


Nurses have worked in an occupational health capacity since the field of nursing was born, but this specialty was not officially recognized until 1971 when the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses was established.  This type of nurse has a very diverse job description and will perform many tasks throughout the day.

They may work in an occupational therapist capacity, or they may work for major corporations in a consulting capacity, so that they can help to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

Occupational Health Nurse Job Outlook


Occupational Health Nurse Salary

The median occupational health nurse salary is $71,441 per year.  The lowest 10 percent earn $57,623 per year and the highest 10 percent earn $86,538 per year.

How much you earn will depend on a large variety of factors.  For example, occupational health nurses usually command a much higher salary when they work for nationally-recognized hospitals than when they work for smaller community hospitals.  There are also great salary differences seen when nurses work for major corporations instead of hospital systems.  Other factors that can impact your earning power include your level of experience, whether you have any occupational health nurse certification, your level of education and your geographic area.


Occupational Health Nurse Job Description

This type of nurse can work in hospitals, clinics, outpatient centers, for corporations or for state and federal governmental agencies.  He or she will perform a wide variety of tasks and these many include:

  • Assessment and observation of the work environment and all workers
  • Educating employees and employers about different medical diagnoses
  • Identification of abnormalities
  • Describing the response to different exposures in the workplace
  • Documenting illnesses and injuries that are related to the workplace
  • Evaluating the occupational and medical histories of employees
  • Evaluating employee subjective complaints
  • Performing industrial hygiene and diagnostic screening tests
  • Evaluating personal exposure monitoring
  • Looking at the workplace and identifying potential exposures and hazards
  • Managing both non-occupational and occupational injury and illness

This type of nurse needs to be very familiar with the industry that he or she works in.  They will need to know about different things to look for that could potentially cause health issues and accidents.  For example, if the nurse works for an industrial steel plant, he or she needs to understand how the different machines work, the different chemicals used and the general process of steel production.  This will help in identifying potential issues before they arise and cause illness or injury to one or more employees.  When this type of nurse works at a hospital, he or she usually deals with workplace injuries and illnesses and may help to decide if any Worker’s Compensation claims are viable.


Occupational Health Nurse Education

When you are looking at how to become an occupational health nurse the first thing you will notice is that you need an undergraduate degree in nursing.  You can choose an associate degree which will take about two years to complete or a bachelor’s degree which will take about four years to complete.  The school you choose must be fully accredited to ensure that you can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.  Once you are licensed, you can seek employment opportunities in occupational nursing.

Your undergraduate nursing degree will require that you take a mixture of both lecture classes and clinical hours.  Some lecture classes will also have a laboratory component.  The following are common classes taken with undergraduate nursing degrees:

  • Pediatric nursing
  • Microbiology
  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Obstetrical nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Nursing fundamentals
  • Nutrition
  • Acute care nursing


Occupational Health Nurse Certification and Licensing

You will need to begin by obtaining your registered nursing license by successfully passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.  Once you pass this you can start to seek a career as an occupational health nurse.  To expand your knowledge and career opportunities, you can choose to pursue your Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) certification.  This is granted by the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses and requires that you pass a 160-question test.  To apply for credentials, you must have have your registered nursing license and 3,000 work hours in the field of occupational health within a five-year period.

Once you receive this certification, it will be active for five years.  You must renew it before the five years is up to remain active.  To recertify you must meet the following requirements:

  • Active registered nursing license
  • Documented continuing education
  • Pay all applicable fees
  • 3,000 hours of occupational health nursing practice


Occupational Health Nurse Job Outlook

The growth rate for occupational health nurses is much faster than the average rate.  Career opportunities in occupational health nursing are expected to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020.

The new guidelines surrounding medical insurance for employers and the increased cost of Worker’s Compensation benefits have spurred an increase in the demand for occupational health nurses.  This type of nurse can also help to ensure a healthy workforce and this will be in greater demand once more and more companies start offering medical insurance to their employees.  This type of nurse can save companies money by helping to prevent workplace accidents and helping to ensure a healthier work environment.




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