For nurses who enjoy both nursing and business, occupational health nursing is a career that combines both interests. While the majority of nurses work in medical care facilities or settings, occupational health nurses work in an office setting and care for employees of a company.
According to Betty Sanisidro, DNP, MSN, COHN-S, APHN-BC and the executive director of the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, occupational health nursing is one of the nursing industry’s undiscovered secrets.
Nursing, says Sanisidro, was a calling she recognized from an early age. “When I was young, every time someone was hurt, I was the first to go to the rescue,” she says. After considering a premed path, Sanisidro says nursing offered her something she knew would be essential to her own career satisfaction–high patient contact.
“But I had no idea occupational health nursing was even an option,” she says. She was disillusioned by her current nursing role and didn’t feel like she was able to make the impact she wanted or expected. When a professional contact mentioned a job at a large corporation and noted that Sanisidro’s nursing background and bilingual skills were ideal for the role, she applied. With her strong medical base and her understanding of workplace safety and preventative care, Sanisidro says she realized the role would allow her to flourish, and she accepted the role when it was offered.
With that introduction to occupational health nursing, Sanisidro never looked back and appreciates the variety of her work and the relationships with the people she cares for. “You never know what will walk in the door,” she says. “I have to stay on top of my game. I felt like I hit the Disneyland of occupations.”
The job also offers opportunities for nurses to gain essential business skills they might not have in traditional medical settings. As a liaison to the leadership, occupational health nurses are relied on to give concise presentations and gather and report on data. For those reasons, Sanisidro says advanced degrees will benefit nurses. Even if an advanced degree isn’t required, she encourages nurses to pursue them. Certification in occupational health nursing is also valuable, and certification for this niche is for entry-level skills, so new nurses are able to take the exam. “The most important attributes in an occupational health setting are those that can’t necessarily be taught,” Sanisidro says. “It’s having that desire, care, and compassion. You can’t teach that.”
Unlike many medical centers, save for long-term care options, employees are generally with a company for a long time. And nurses gain deep knowledge of the business aspects of a company so they become experts at about compliance and keep detailed records about visits. Although occupational health nurses have specific daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to track, the day-to-day work is unpredictable. “There’s no typical week,” she says. “And that’s the exciting part of it.”
As a nurse within a corporate setting, occupational health nurses’ duties are broad. They can be counted on to give hearing conservation testing, eye exams, and preventative programs including biometric testing, health coaching, and nutritional counseling. There will be biosafety questionnaires and follow up exams. Nurses in this role can also see emergencies like a cardiac event, seizures, or anaphylaxis or less traumatic problems of something in an eye, a rolled ankle, an abrasion, or checking an unusual mole or suspicious skin lesion.
Occupational health nursing is sometimes confused with occupational therapy, which is distinctly different. But many people aren’t familiar with occupational health nursing–even many nurses. “It’s not a specialty reviewed in most nursing programs,” says Sanisidro. “But once nurses find the niche, they stay for a long time.”
Another difference that many occupational health nurses find is that there is funding in the specialty. Corporations that have occupational nursing staff are making a purposeful, direct investment in the employees’ health and well-being. “We may not generate revenue, but we can demonstrate what was utilized this month and if visits were for personal medical or occupational reasons,” she says. “You have to get comfortable with public speaking, PowerPoint presentations, and speaking the lingo of business, because businesses listen to dollar signs.” Occupational health nurses are also advocates for employees, so they are comfortable alerting the company to a workplace safety issue or a strange odor before it becomes a larger problem.
Employees, in turn, appreciate the convenience of health care in the workplace with someone they recognize and trust. “You develop a rapport and trust with them,” says Sanisidro. “They can just pop in and say hello.”
If occupational health nursing interests you, Sanisidro recommends reaching out to an occupational nurse for a conversation, shadowing a nurse to see what the role is like, or even picking up some per diem jobs through an agency to get a feel for the position. “If they love helping others and are caring and compassionate nurses,” she says, “everything else can be taught.”
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