How To Be An Occupational Health Nurse

What Is An Occupational Health Nurse?

An occupational health nurse is a Registered Nurse that holds the relevant RN license and that has additional training to be employed in a work/business environment in order to:

  • Identify situations that will place the workers in that environment at risk of incurring injuries or illnesses.
  • Treat any injuries or illnesses that may arise in the workplace where the occupational health nurse is employed.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

There are a number of duties related to this nursing field. As an occupational health nurse one of your primary goals is to recognize as well as prevent potential workplace hazards (which is done through careful assessment of the working environment in order to identify anything faulty in the way the environment is maintained) as well as treating any injuries or illnesses suffered by workers. In addition you will need to educate employers and employees on a number of topics, including personal protective equipment, common workplace illnesses and injuries, and the law in relation to Occupational Health. Ensuring that everyone is informed of potential hazards as well as their rights if something were to go wrong are essential parts of your job. It will be your responsibility to carefully document all injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace.


There are a number of settings in which occupational health nurses can find employment:Occupational Health Nurse

  • Occupational health nurses can work in schools
  • Occupational health nurses can work at construction sites
  • Occupational health nurses can work at factories
  • Occupational health nurses can work in hospitals
  • Occupational health nurses can work in offices
  • Occupational health nurses can work as independent consultants
  • Occupational health nurses can work for the government

One of the any benefits of the job is that you will have better working hours than most other nurses because you will be subject to office hours rather than to the shifts that nurses working in hospitals have to endure. There are, in addition, plenty of employment opportunities for nurses interested in this line of work.

Occupational Health Nurse Requirements

To become an occupational health nurse you first need to become an RN. To enter an RN training program you need to hold a high school diploma or an equivalent GED. There is quite a lot of competition for entering RN training programs, so it is important that you work hard in order to stand out from the crowd during high school. If you are still in high school now remember that it is helpful in terms of getting into nursing school to take subjects like biology, math, and science. There are a number of different RN programs that you can complete, but in order to be an occupational health nurse you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Consequently this is the qualification you should strive towards form the beginning. You also need an RN license.

Personality Traits

The personality traits required in an occupational health nurse are very similar to those required by most other nurses:

  • Empathy: Because you will work with people in difficult health positions every day, you need to demonstrate empathy in order to support their emotional needs in addition to their physical needs.
  • Communication Skills: on a daily basis you will communicate with many different people in the work environment. Clear communication could mean the differences between the health and illness of the workers under your care.
  • Attention to Detail: Assessing a work environment for potential hazards requires a close attention to.
  • Flexibility: There are a variety of different issues that you may face in this occupation, so flexibility and an ability to deal with them all is necessary.

Educational Requirements

There are a number of educational requirements involved in becoming an occupational health nurse. As previously discussed you need a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This requires you to attend an RN program, for which you first need to have a high school diploma or GED. Once you have completed the basic nursing requirements you will have to engage in additional training that will result in you becoming a Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN), a Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S), a Certified Occupational Health Nurse/Case Manager (COHN/CM), a Certified Occupational Health Nurses-Specialist/Case Manager (COHN-S/CM), a Certified Occupational Health Nurse/Safety Manager (COHN/SM), or a Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist/Safety Manager (COHN-S/SM). There are different requirements in terms of the education needed for each of these qualifications from state to state, so consult your state board of nursing for specific information.


As an occupational health nurse you must be:

  • A licensed RN
  • A licensed occupational health nurse

The first is achieved by completing an RN training program and applying for licensure through your state board of nursing. If your licensure is approved you will be allowed to write the NCLEX-RN examination and receive licensure. The occupational health certification must then be obtained after completing the necessary training and then writing the certification exam. Your state board of nursing provides information on the licensing procedures and laws tend to differ from state to state so be sure that you know exactly what is expected of you in your state. Your state board of nursing can only license you to work as an RN in that particular state so additional licensing requirements are needed if you move.

How To Become An Occupational Health Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

The training path to becoming an occupational health nurse is a fairly simple one to follow. To start off with you must complete the required bachelor’s degree in general nursing through an accredited school. Completing the program and meeting all of the program and state requirements is essential in order to receive your certification. Completing the course will allow you to write the NCLEX-RN examination and receive licensure as an RN through your state board of nursing. A master’s degree in nursing is then required, on top of your bachelor’s degree. This master’s degree should specialize in occupational health nursing. Technically speaking there is no actual license to become an occupational health nurse, but you do need certification of some kind through an organization like the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses.

Source An Accredited Education Program

It is extremely important that you source an accredited RN bachelor’s program as well as an accredited occupational nursing master’s program when working towards these qualifications. This is because you will be unable to be licensed and certified if the program that you attend is not accredited by an appropriate accrediting body. There are a number of ways to find accredited programs:

  • Your state board of nursing usually provides a list of the program options that you have in your area. You can also ask them about specific schools and programs that you are interested in attending.
  • Schools are required to advertise their accreditation status on their websites, but this is not always reliable.
  • Current nurses will know of accredited programs as they will have completed one in order to be where they are today.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is a popular first step to becoming an RN. It is shorter than a bachelor’s degree program and most associate’s degree programs allow you to write the NCLEX-RN examination once you have completed it. It must be kept in mind that, if your final goal is to become an occupational health nurse, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree. Consequently your associate’s degree is only a stepping stone. To earn an associate’s degree compile a list of the accredited nursing schools in your area offering the qualification and create a short list based on your personal preferences. Research the application requirements for each and, if you meet the requirements, apply for at least three schools to keep your options open. Completing the course will warn you the degree.

Obtain Your Licensure

Although a master’s degree in nursing is one of the more popular methods through which to become eligible for occupational health nursing certification, there are actually two main paths open to you. You can either:

  • Work 3,000 hours in 5 years in health nursing, OR
  • Complete a master’s degree program in occupational health nursing

However it must be noted that in order to get the above mentioned experience an employer may require you to have a master’s degree in occupational nursing in any case, so this is still the most sensible option. Re-certification must occur regular as per your state’s requirements (which can vary significantly between states) and requires you to complete:

  • 3,000 hours of occupational health work experience
  • 50 Continuing Nursing Education hours in occupational health practice

Online/Distance Education Programs

Studying online can be very convenient, but it does not suit everybody. A large degree of self motivation is required. In addition you must not forget that for most nursing programs hands-on training is also required, meaning that it is not possible to complete your entire training program online. There are some good online schools that offer these programs. Oakland University School of Nursing which offers the Occupational Health Certificate, the University of North Carolina Online which offers the Master of Public Health in Occupational Health Nursing, UNC Gillings School of Public Health which offers the Occupational Health Nursing Certificate and the University of South Florida which offers the Occupational Health Nursing qualification are some of your options. However this requires careful thought and consideration before a decision to study online is made.

Job Outlook

There are three main reasons why the job outlook for occupational health nurses is extremely good:

  • The nursing profession in general is growing at a faster rate than any other profession at the moment.
  • Nurses with advanced qualifications in general are in higher demand in the current medical climate.
  • Health and safety regulations in working environments are becoming stricter every year, increasing the need the for occupational health nurses in particular.

Because occupational health nurses also have general nursing qualifications they are also eligible to work in any area where RNs are employed and where special certification in a nursing specialty in not a requirement. Consequently occupational health nurses benefit from all of the aspects mentioned above with no exceptions. Job stability is one of the main attractions of this line of work.

Nurse Earnings

Overall, occupational health nurses earn about $47,459 – $77,932 a year. If you include the potential for a bonus (usually between $0.00 and $5,078) and the potential for profit sharing (usually between $972 and $2,849), the potential total comes to $44,091 – $79,351. The industry that you choose to work in as an occupational health nurse can also affect your earnings:

  • In Healthcare you can earn between $45,022 and $79,342 a year.
  • In Manufacturing and Distribution you can earn between $46,055 and $80,093 a year.
  • In a Health Clinic you can earn between $43,894 and $77,644 a year.
  • In Health Insurance you can earn between $46,464 and $78,142 a year.
  • In Food Manufacturing you can earn between $46,647 and $81,056 a year.

The cities that are popular to work in because they tend to pay slightly more are:

  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Joliet, Illinois
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Houston, Texas
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • San Jose, California

The main pro related to becoming an occupational health nurse is the autonomy that you will have as well as the salary that comes with that autonomy, while the main con is that the educational requirements for this line of work will take you many years to complete. Many nurses have this occupation as an end goal for their career path and take their time slowly working their way towards it. Other nurses go straight for the master’s degree from the start, doing the minimum amount of practical work required along the way. The path you take depends on your personal preferences.

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