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Occupational therapy and occupational health nursing are similar fields in as much as both roles are concerned with health promotion and well being, but an occupational therapist is not a qualified nurse and vice versa. Occupational therapists are qualified with a specific degree in occupational therapy, and are registered with the Health Professionals Council, whereas an occupational health nurse will have an NMC pin number just like any other practising nurse in the UK.
There are vacancies for both occupational health nurses and occupational therapists in the public and private sectors. Agencies and large corporate organisations often use a combination of both skill sets to promote health and wellbeing in clients or staff.
Occupational Health Nurse
An Occupational Health Nurse is a qualified nurse with an NMC pin number who has a particular interest in public health matters and health promotion. All registered nurses can apply for occupational health nursing roles regardless of the specific branch of nursing studied, but adult and mental health nurses
are often preferred because they have a greater range of experience in treating adults, rather than RSCN nurses who specialise in children’s nursing.
There are occupational health nurse jobs available in both the private sector and the NHS, but the public sector starting salary for an OH nurse is current guaranteed at £21,176, whereas private sector salaries may vary. Private sector occupational health nurses are usually employed by large companies to promote healthy living and working by ensuring a healthy working environment and offering basic health screening. They may also be responsible for risk management and ongoing workplace assessments for employees of the company.
Occupational health nurses in the public sector are employed by the NHS to work within a larger occupational health team, usually within the community and often working with local GP surgeries and health centres. An occupational health nurse’s primary focus is health promotion, and also probably includes the health and wellbeing of NHS staff in the local area.
There are several different career paths for occupational health nurses, and one is to become an occupational health advisor. The role is similar to that of an occupational health nurse, but with more managerial responsibility. You could be organising a team of occupational health nurses with overall responsibility for the welfare for the entire caseload of your team.
Unlike an Occupational Health Nurse, an Occupational Therapist is not a qualified nurse, they are specially trained in occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is the practice of using specific activities to help treat physical and psychological conditions in order to promote well being and prevent disability. An occupational therapist may work with anyone suffering from a chronic mental health condition, learning disability or physical disability to help them live the best quality of life they can. Promoting a health lifestyle that’s appropriate for the individual and in so doing successfully overcoming any difficulties that person has through illness, age or injury is key to this role.
The study of occupational therapy is a degree subject in its own right, and most occupational therapists will have a BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy. While some OTs begin their career as occupational therapy assistants, most start their professional healthcare career when they graduate from university. A newly qualified occupational therapist can expect to start on the same salary as a newly qualified nurse, which in the NHS if the first pay point in band 5.
As a senior occupational therapist, one career path could lead you to manage a team of occupational therapists in a variety of different settings including recovery, mental health, or acquired brain injury to name just a few. You could chose to focus your professional development on therapies for a particular condition, or age group and become a recognised specialist in that particular field.
How to start a career in occupational health or occupational therapy
There are sometimes vacancies advertised for occupational therapy assistants or support workers, and often only a small amount of experience is required. In order to be successful when applying for a support worker role you should ensure your application highlights your healthcare experience, personal qualities and commitment to the field of occupational therapy / health. Your personal qualities are more important than experience, so you should be able to demonstrate your commitment to caring, wellbeing and supporting someone in your care.
View all occupational health nursing jobs
Read our other articles about occupational health jobs:
Occupational Health Nursing Jobs in the Private Sector & NHS
Occupational Health Nurse Jobs and working with a Human Resources Team
Marisa Stevenson - Lecturer in Occupational Health Nursing