Certified Occupational Health Nurse Careers: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a certified occupational health nurse? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary statistics to determine if a career as a certified occupational health nurse is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Certified Occupational Health Nurse Career

A certified occupational health nurse (OHN) is asked to treat, diagnose and administer care to workers in a place of business. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of a certified occupational health nurse career.

Pros of a Certified Occupational Health Nurse Career
Good salary relative to training requirements (about $82,000 in 2016)*
Helping minimize the impact of workplace injuries and illnesses*
Flexibility in terms of job location**
Faster than average (16% growth from 2014-2024)**
Challenging work in a changing industry**

Cons of a Certified Occupational Health Nurse Career
Potential for high level of stress**
May come in contact with hazardous materials**
Contact with employees who have infectious diseases**
On-call duty may be required in some instances**

Sources: *Salary.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Duties

Along with managing and treating workplace injuries and work-related illnesses, a certified OHN must also provide documentation for worker's compensation cases. This is an important element of the work you'll perform as a certified OHN, as it helps to make a positive impact on your employer's bottom line. By helping to ensure a safe workplace, you can help an organization be more efficient and productive.

Certified OHNs must also plan and implement practices throughout an organization that comply with guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These processes include proper and legal transport of employees who are injured or incapacitated while on the job. Your work as a certified OHN is not limited to treating injury and illness; you'll also assist with pre-employment physicals and maintain medical supply inventory.

Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects robust job growth for registered nurses in the coming years, with overall employment expected to increase by 16% from 2014-2024. The BLS reports that job growth for registered nurses should be strong in both hospital and non-hospital settings. As of January 2016, Salary.com reported a median annual salary of about $82,000 for registered nurses working in occupational health.

Requirements

Education

Prospective RNs generally complete either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an associate's degree. Curricula in these programs include coursework in anatomy, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and varied social and behavioral sciences. BSN programs usually take four years to complete, while associate's programs can generally be completed in two to three years.

Licensing and Certification

All states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories require licensing for RNs. Licensure requires graduation from an approved nursing program and qualifying scores on the National Council Licensing Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Additional licensing requirements vary by state.

Becoming certified as an OHN requires passing an exam offered by the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN). The ABOHN awards both the Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) and the Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S) credentials. The COHN certification is offered to RNs with an associate's degree or nursing diploma, while the COHN-S designation is geared toward RNs with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Skills

All RNs need to have patience, compassion and emotional stability in order to deal with emergencies and highly stressful situations. Organizational skills and a detail-oriented mindset are particularly important for occupational health nurses since they need to adhere to strict OSHA guidelines. Superior written communication and speaking skills may also be beneficial. Advocating for safety and health within the work environment is a key responsibility of certified OHNs, and being able to present information effectively and persuasively can be an important asset.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Working as a certified OHN could entail unique duties depending on your employer. The following job postings from April 2012 reflect some specific expectations of OHN positions.

  • A pharmaceutical company based in Pennsylvania seeks an occupational health nurse to develop proactive strategies to help employees optimize their personal and occupational health. The successful candidate will perform medical surveillance required by OSHA and develop injury processes that ensure proper care. RN licensure in the state of Pennsylvania and three years of occupational health nurse experience are required. COHN designation is preferred.
  • A healthcare provider in New York is looking for an occupational health nurse to care for ill or injured employees. Other responsibilities of the position include case management, health coaching and safety education. COHN designation and one year of experience as an RN are required.
  • A hospital in Wisconsin seeks a part-time occupational health nurse to provide professional nursing services to the hospital staff and act as an advocate for their health and safety. COHN or COHN-S certification is preferred and current RN licensure in the state of Wisconsin is required.

Standing Out in the Field

To help set yourself apart from other jobseekers in the OHN field, you may want to consider an advanced education. If you hold a BSN or even a master's degree in nursing, you'll be more attractive to employers than certified OHNs with less education. Being knowledgeable about regulatory requirements for occupational safety and health can also enhance your professional qualifications. Expertise in health information privacy guidelines and labor standards is also important for a successful OHN.

Alternative Career Options

The training required to become an RN is extensive, regardless of the degree you may hold. A wide range of healthcare career options will become available to you upon completion of all RN requirements. If you don't mind the extended hours necessary for work as an on-call nurse, you may want to pursue a more traditional RN role in a hospital or physician's office.

Alternately, if you find the administrative tasks of work as a certified OHN appealing, you might want to explore a career as a healthcare administrator. If the education and advocacy elements of working as a certified OHN intrigue you, a career as a health educator may be more to your liking. Both occupations require a bachelor's degree, although some healthcare administrators have master's degrees. The BLS projects faster than average job growth for both occupations, with a particularly strong outlook for health educators of 37% from 2010-2020. As of May 2010, the BLS reported a median annual salary of almost $46,000 for health educators and more than $84,000 for healthcare administrators.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. University of Saint Mary

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    Master's
      • MSN: Nursing Administrator Specialization
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    2. Johns Hopkins University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Clinical Nurse Specialist Specialization - Online
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    3. George Mason University

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    Master's
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
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    4. Kaplan University

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    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
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    6. American University

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    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
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    7. Colorado Technical University

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      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
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    8. Benedictine University

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    9. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

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      • Doctor of Nursing Practice
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    10. Utica College

    Program Options

    Doctorate
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      • MBA - Health Care Management
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Featured Schools

University of Saint Mary

  • MSN: Nursing Administrator Specialization
  • MBA Health Care Management Concentration
  • RN-BSN Degree

What is your highest level of education completed?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Clinical Nurse Specialist Specialization - Online
  • MS in Nursing: Health Systems Management - Online
  • Post-Master Acute Care Pediatric Certificate - Online

What is your highest level of education?

George Mason University

  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

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The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Health Care Quality
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
  • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)

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Benedictine University

  • DUAL MBA-MSN
  • Master of Science in Nursing
  • Accelerated MBA Health Administration

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