I have been an occupational health advisor (nurse) for six years. I ‘fell into it’ whilst carrying out some screening as a practice nurse, otherwise, except for having pre-post screening and vaccinations myself many years ago, I had never given it much thought. Most of the other occupational health advisors I have come across are the same.
Historically occupational health used to be mainly doctor oriented, but as nursing has progressed, and we have shown our worth, our roles have become just as important and specialised.
All nurses are aware of the impact of government stratergy for nursing. As with public health, it has identified and pushed for occupational health services, so there is clearly a consideration of how occupational health can make a real difference to people.
Work is good for us both physically and emotionally and to know there is a service looking after employees is a plus for employers. For example, individuals who suffer from Crohn’s Disease often have difficulty working nights, as they require routine and commonly suffer from lethargy related to their illness, while someone with Asthma may not be able to work in a bakery due to flour dust. Medical conditions do not mean individuals are unable to work, but occupational health input is required to assist with reasonable adjustments. It is most rewarding to be able to assist an employee and enable them to remain in work.
So why is there a shortage of occupational health nurses? Is it because there is a lack of training available? Is it a pathway that is not understood? Or is it because vacancies are usually only advertised through occupational health agencies? It is the most autonomous role I have ever had, so management support is essential. I often wonder if this is a barrier for some nurses.
It is in my experience a thoroughly enjoyable, though often challenging, career. The role has been revolutionised, more opportunities are presenting themselves and the need for occupational health nurses is increasing. Training although limited is available and it puts public health as the core value, so it could be a carried out alongside practice nursing or nursing courses, at degree and diploma level.
Due to the varied nature of the job, an occupational health nurse, whilst maintaining the professionalism of being a registered nurse, does require additional skills in order to practice to a high standard. While maintaining traditional values of nursing, occupational health nurses must articulate and demonstrate the benefits of nursing practice to employees and employers.
In my role I can be working on sickness absence management for the probation service one day, and then completing health surveillance in line with health and safety legislation for a factory the next day. Job satisfaction comes in various forms; the sickness absence rate for the probation service was reduced this year, the occupational health service being a contributing factor, result! I also enjoy complying with HSE legislation, knowing that I am keeping employees save in the workplace.
I, along with Nursing Times, would be most interested to hear your views, opinions, concerns and thoughts on occupational health nursing, as it is a topic that hasn’t been raised much.
Yvonne Jones, RGN, BSc (Hons), OH Ad Dip