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Becoming an Occupational Health Nurse: What You Need to Know


Occupational health nurse treating an employee

If you ever twisted your ankle on the playground or felt light-headed during a science experiment, you probably visited your school nurse. She would’ve been a resident faculty member of your school, there to bandage injuries, administer medication, and keep students safe on campus. It’s important work, not only for schools but many places of employment — as anyone who’s become an occupational health nurse knows.

Because poor employee health is a serious problem for many industries, business leaders look to occupational health nurses to improve their bottom line through employee health and wellness. This nursing specialty plays a critical role in business development by helping to curb absenteeism, boost morale, and increase worker productivity.

Occupational health nursing is a blend of healthcare, compassion, nursing, and business — the perfect specialty for any nurse who wants to make a difference in public health! If that’s you, here’s what you need to know to become a certified occupational health nurse.

The nuts and bolts of occupational health nursing

Occupational health nurses make a difference in various industries and with all types of workersAmericans work a lot. And the way we work has changed dramatically in the last century. Thanks in part to technology, we’ve become more productive, and there’s more awareness than ever before regarding the wellness and safety of workers. But more awareness is needed. As the workforce evolves occupational healthcare must change with it. New concerns emerge all the time, and the number of hours Americans spend on work isn’t declining any time soon.

Occupational health nurses help the workforce and the public stay well. Their work is not limited to chemical accidents in factories, first aid, or physical injuries in heavy labor work, either. Office jobs have their own hazards — prolonged sitting, carpal tunnel, etc. — not to mention the medical histories, illnesses, and conditions employees have independently of work.

Not only do nurses with an occupational health specialty help prevent illnesses, attend to injuries that happen on the job, and help create procedures for preventing accidents, they also have the following responsibilities:

  • Helping to educate staff on health management
  • Creating procedures and policies surrounding safety measures
  • Implementing and staying up-to-date on standards set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Managing workers’ compensation records
  • Preventing the spread of disease
  • Ultimately, workplace safety is the number one goal, and occupational health nurses work with employers and employees in their unique environments to help obtain it.

Related Resource: Practical Advice for Choosing Your Nursing Specialty

How do I become an occupational health nurse?

You don’t need an advanced degree or a certification to become an occupational health nurse. Many entry-level positions only require an RN license, as well as some experience, depending on the position. If you want to make occupational health nursing your specialty, however, it might be worth checking out a certification program or pursuing a nurse practitioner degree after completing your BSN. Neither are required, but there are certainly benefits to one or both. Certification through the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses requires 3,000 hours of related experience in occupational health or completion of an academic certification program and passing the certification exam (150 questions over three hours).

Related Resource: Why a BSN Degree Matters More Now Than Ever

At Ameritech College of Healthcare, we love helping our nursing students find their calling in life, whether that’s occupational health or one of the other 100-plus specialties available in the nursing field. If you’re interested in our nursing program in Utah, check out our website, or feel free to reach out to us with any questions — we’d love to hear from you!