Occupational Health Nurse

The Job and What's Involved

As an occupational health nurse you would encourage better health and wellbeing in workers. Your main duties could include:

  • Carrying out pre-employment medicals.
  • Assessing and treating employees who are injured or become ill at work.
  • Providing counselling, support, health education and advice.
  • Advising management on health and safety issues.
  • Giving sickness absence advice.
  • Carrying out risk assessments.
  • Training employees in first aid.
  • Maintaining and analysing employee health records and statistics.
  • Developing and managing emergency procedures.

You may also carry out vaccinations and phlebotomy (taking blood samples for testing).

You could work alone or as part of a team of health and safety experts. You may be based in a large organisation, such as a hospital, local authority, airline or retail chain, or work with a private consultancy firm used by some smaller employers to give specialist, one-off advice.

Your hours of work could vary depending on your employer. However, you are likely to work 37.5 to 40 hours a week, which may involve a rota or shift pattern including weekends, evenings and nights. Part-time or flexible hours may also be available.

You will usually work in a clean, bright examination room.

Newly qualified nurses in the NHS earn around £20,700 a year. Experienced occupational health nurses may earn around £33,000.

Senior nurses and managers may earn around £40,000.

Extra allowances may be paid to those living in or around London.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You will usually need between one and two years' professional experience as a qualified nurse before you can train as an occupational health nurse.

You could work with a variety of organisations in settings ranging from factories and department stores to offices, universities and hospitals. You may be employed directly or through a private consultancy or NHS trust.

Education and Training

Traditionally, you needed to be qualified in the adult or mental health branches of nursing. However, many course providers and employers will now accept registered nurses in any branch.

To qualify as a nurse you need a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved degree or Diploma of Higher Education. For more information about becoming a nurse, check the Nurse job guide.

Training to become an occupational health nurse involves taking a (shortened) degree or postgraduate occupational health nursing programme leading to registration as a Specialist Community Public Health Nurse. Check the NMC website for details of course providers.

Courses are run on a one-year full-time or two years part-time basis, including placements in the workplace (public or private sector). You would also study subjects such as:

  • Health surveillance and the effect of work on the health of the workforce.
  • Health promotion (physical and psychological).
  • Health and safety legislation.
  • Managing occupational disease.

Some employers will also prefer you to have a certificate in counselling, or health and safety (such as the NEBOSH General Certificate).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

As a qualified occupational health nurse, you will be expected to keep your nursing skills and knowledge of health and safety legislation up to date throughout your career.

You must also renew your professional registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council every three years. To re-register you need to have worked a minimum of 450 hours and completed at least 35 hours' professional development in the past three years. Check with the NMC for details.

If you have had a break from working as a nurse and your registration has lapsed you will need to take a return-to-practice course. Courses are available throughout the UK and include a mixture of theory and clinical placements. You can contact your local NHS Trust, or search the NMC website for a list of approved programmes.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An occupational health nurse needs:

  • Good communication skills.
  • The ability to relate to people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • The ability to teach people (about health and safety issues, for instance).
  • Assertiveness to make sure instructions on heath and safety issues are carried out.
  • Good powers of observation, with the ability to deal with health and safety risks as they arise.
  • The ability to remain calm and think clearly in an emergency.
  • Awareness of issues surrounding confidentiality and data protection.
  • The ability to work on your own initiative and as part of a team.
  • A responsible attitude to work.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, you could move into self-employment and work as an occupational health consultant.

Alternatively, you may be able to progress into a management position, leading a team of occupational health staff or running an occupational health centre.

It may also be possible to move into health service management or nurse training (lecturing).

Get Further Information

NHS Careers, PO Box 376, Bristol BS99 3EY
Tel: 0345 60 60 655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

NHS Wales:
Website: www.wales.nhs.uk

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC),
23 Portland Place, London W1B 1PZ
Tel: 020 7333 9333
Website: www.nmc-uk.org

University of Ulster at Jordanstown,
School of Nursing, Shore Road,
Newtownabbey, Co Antrim BT37 0QB
Tel: 08700 400 700
Website: www.ulster.ac.uk

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