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  • 16 October 2012
  • 8 min read

Interview with an Occupational Health Nursing lecturer

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Marisa Stevenson is a lecturer and Programme leader for the University of The West of Scotland. As the Graduate Diploma Specialist for Occupational Health Nursing we thought it would be interesting to hear her perspective on this nursing specialism.

In terms of doing the job on a day-day basis could you explain the difference between occupational health nursing and other nursing specialisms? 

Occupational Health Nursing jobs (OHN) have changed and developed significantly in the last decade, not only to reflect the changes in the content and delivery of healthcare in the workplace but also to reflect the economic and social changes within our society.

These exciting changes mean that OH Nursing must not only reflect current thinking and practice in a multidisciplinary service but also develop and lead a robust evidence base to inform future practice.

Occupational health nurses work in a variety of settings mainly industry, health services, commerce, and education.

They can be employed as independent practitioners or as part of a larger occupational health service team, often attached to a personnel department.In 2004 the NMC consolidated the Nursing Register and OHNs were eligible to enter the SCPHN (PART 3) of the Nursing Register and subsequently once qualified they are considered to be leaders in public health in the workplace setting.

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What are some of the most typical challenges and rewards faced by occupational health nurses in their jobs?

Occupational health nurses work in a variety of settings mainly industry, health services, commerce, and education. They can be employed as independent practitioners or as part of a larger occupational health service team, often attached to a personnel department.

The occupational health nurse role can include:

• the prevention of health problems, promotion of healthy living and working conditions

• understanding the effects of work on health and health at work*basic first aid and health screening

• workforce and workplace monitoring and health need assessment*health promotion

• education and training

• counselling and support

• risk assessment and risk management

What kind of people (which set of personal skills) make for successful occupational health nurses?

Based on current practice within the UK you will need to be a registered nurse (registered on the first part of the NMC register) before applying for a junior occupational health nursing post or workplace screening post.

To progress it is usually recommended to have the diploma or degree in the Specialism. It is not mandatory to have the SCPHN (OHN) NMC Qualification however to progress into any Leadership / Management positions this is usually a pre requisite.

Useful experience for someone wishing to enter an occupational nurse role includes working in an accident and emergency setting and practice nursing.

Learning about relevant legislation, management of sickness and absence, development of manual handling policies and rehabilitation of staff with chronic conditions can be beneficial. Involvement in local initiatives such as risk assessment can also provide prior useful experience.

Certainly knowledge of health promotion and education is desirable as well as an understanding of health and safety legislation and relevant issues, health screening, stress management and basic first aid.

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What is the Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health Nursing?

The Graduate Diploma Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (Occupational Health Nursing) is a 2-year part time programme studied wholly distance learning at The University of The West of Scotland.

There are other OHN Programmes on offer at other Academic Institutions throughout the UK.

This programme of study allows students to exit with the academic award of Graduate Diploma and also permits them to exit with the professional award of SCPHN (OHN) - accessing the 3rd part of the NMC nursing register.

Our users of will be familiar with the request / expectation of Occupational Health jobs requiring that registered nurses have a post registration OH qualification. Is this now a necessary requirement for all occupational health jobs?

As highlighted above the post registration OH Qualification is not always necessary for all occupational health jobs however employers are increasingly becoming educated recognising that nurses with the specialist qualification are better prepared both educationally and in practice to meet the ever increasing challenges of occupational health practice.

The UK Government commissioned report 'Working for a Healthier Tomorrow' in 2008 highlighted the need for occupational health and reinforced the workplace as instrumental in the UK populations health and family well-being.

This report focused on keeping people healthy at work and facilitating them returning to work should they become ill and identified occupational health nurses playing an instrumental role in this strategy.

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Are there any major differences between occupational health nursing jobs in Scotland, and occupational health nursing jobs in the rest of the UK?

No, in my experience and to my knowledge there are no differences in the jobs currently on offer within the UK in occupational health nursing.

What kinds of people come to the University of The West Of Scotland to study the Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health Nursing? (What I mean by that is, is it mostly nurses with experience of OH who want to advance their career?)

The University of The West of Scotland currently has a variety of students on the SCPHN (OHN) Programme. A healthy mixture of those who have been working in OH for some time and now wish to consolidate their experience validating their practice with the Specialist Qualification.

Alternatively there are also those starting off in the discipline as a planned career change.

In my experience those wishing to consider promotion into a leadership/management position view this as a necessary part of their professional development.

In particular within the NHS occupational health service within the UK having the SCPHN (OHN) qualification is a necessary aspect of their progression and links in with the KSF and related salary banding.

Finally, is the occupational health industry in the UK growing, or is it as big as its always been? 

I would suggest that the occupational health industry in the UK is growing. Under Health and Safety legislation some employers will have a statutory duty to provide some aspect of occupational health should it only be mandatory health screening as a result of the health risks they expose their employees too.

However as discussed above with the recent Government commissioned reports (Black, 2008 and Boorman, 2009) there is an increasing evidence base as to the value that occupational health provides employers and just recently in February 2011 the Government announced that they have appointed Dame Carol Black to carry out a review of sickness absence within the UK and it is anticipated that a suggested outcome of this will be the value that occupational health provide in advising employers as to the health and fitness of their employees.


Black, C. 2008. Working for a Healthier Tomorrow: Review of the Health of Britain's Working Age Population. London: HMSOBoorman,

S. 2009. NHS Health and Wellbeing Review. London: Department of Health

Thanks very much to Marisa for her time.

Find out more about OHN courses at UWS...

Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health Nursing at UWS

Read our other articles about occupational health jobs:

Occupational Health Nursing Jobs in the Private Sector & NHS

Occupational Therapy and Occupational Health Nursing

Occupational Health Nurse Jobs and working with a Human Resources Team

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About the author

I believe people should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career.

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