Occupational Health Nurses


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you want to become an occupational health nurse, you will first need to become a registered nurse. To prepare for this career, you should take high school mathematics and science courses, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Health courses will also be helpful. English and speech courses should not be neglected because you must be able to communicate well with patients.

Postsecondary Training

You must be a registered nurse before you can become an occupational health nurse. There are three basic kinds of training programs that you may choose from to become a registered nurse: associate's degree, diploma, and bachelor's degree. Which of the three training programs to choose depends on your career goals. A bachelor's degree in nursing is required for most supervisory or administrative positions, for jobs in public health agencies, and for admission to graduate nursing programs. A master's degree is usually necessary to prepare for a nursing specialty or to teach. For some specialties, such as nursing research, a Ph.D. is essential.

It is preferred that nurses entering the occupational nursing field have a bachelor's degree in nursing and nursing experience, especially in community health, ambulatory care, critical care, or emergency nursing.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Licensing is mandatory to practice as a registered nurse. On the other hand, certification is voluntary and can be obtained through the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN). Certification reflects a mastery of the specialty practice in occupational health. Three levels of certification are available, depending on a candidate's level of education and experience: Individuals can become a certified occupational health nurse (COHN), a certified occupational health nurse-specialist (COHN-S), or a case manager (CM).

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) recognizes three levels of competence in its nursing specialty. Competent occupational health nurses are comfortable in roles such as clinician, coordinator, and case manager following company procedures, and use an assessment checklist and clinical protocols to provide treatment. Proficient occupational health nurses have an increased ability to see client situations as a whole. Based on their increased experience, such nurses can quickly gather the information necessary to make an assessment and are flexible enough to change protocols when necessary. Expert occupational health nurses, in addition to all their other experience and skills, show leadership in developing health policy, serve in management or executive roles, are consultants to business and government, and design and conduct research. Like other nurses, nurses in occupational health have critical thinking skills to make their assessments of the client's health state, show compassion toward their clients, are able to keep track of multiple clients with different health needs, and show patience and emotional stability when dealing with difficult situations.

The duties of an occupational health nurse are varied and unpredictable, and the ability to think outside of the box can be critical. Occupational health nurses must be able to survey a workplace and see the safety issues and the human issues, in addition to the health issues.

Occupational health nurses should be able to think independently and make decisions quickly. They should have good management skills as well as the ability to relate well to all people in all positions.