How to Become an Occupational Health Nurse
The first prerequisite to becoming an occupational health nurse is to be a Licensed Registered Nurse (RN) or a Bachelor in Science of Nursing (BSN).
The BSN degree is actually the more valuable, and can provide you with a wider range of career opportunities and an easier transition into OHN programs that can reward a Master's Degree.
1. Earn an Associate's Degree (3 Years)
You can become an RN in three years through a nursing diploma program or associate degree program. Many community colleges offer Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs.
Many new RNs will begin their education with an ADN program, then later advance to enrollment in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or master’s degree programs.
During your time you will take general education courses along with Anatomy, Nursing, Nutrition, Chemistry, and Microbiology. An ADN will allow you into entry-level nursing positions.
2. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (2-4 Years)
Currently, there is a national push to require all nurses to hold a BSN degree. Research has concluded that patients experience better outcomes after illness or injury when they are under the care of nurses who are educated at the baccalaureate level in nursing.
The current nursing workforce in the U.S. consists of 55 percent of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree or higher. A conventional BSN program takes 4 years to complete. A popular movement now finds more and more colleges and universities offering students who already hold a bachelor’s in another field an accelerated route to nursing-program graduation.
These accelerated BSN programs take between 12 to 18 months to complete. If you already have your RN from an associates degree, you can do the RN-to-BSN program in 2 to 3 years, which can open you up to more opportunity and growth.
3. Complete OHN Training or Earn a Master's Degree
Education specific to occupational health nursing typically is offered on the graduate level through Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). You will get the hands-on-training and class room instruction necessary to become an OHN.
The program includes the following:
- Health and behavior science
- Policy and management
- Regulatory compliance
- Program planning
- Industrial hygiene
There are programs available for an accelerated master’s degree (MSN), which takes about three years to complete. More and more RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-Ph.D. programs are being launched as a way to meet the increasing demand for more highly educated nurses in the workforce.
Another accelerated program is being offered by an increasing number of four-year institutions. These programs, called articulation agreements, are formed in collaboration with community and junior colleges to enable associate degree nurses or bachelor’s degree nurses to effortlessly transition into BSN and MSN programs.
4. Earn the Required Certification
Regardless of the type of entry into practice program you attend, all graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam before they can become a registered nurse. The exam is administered by each state’s board of nursing.
In order to take the test, you must first apply for your nursing license from your state board. Each state is different, so you must check to see if you meet all of the requirements for your state.
The NCLEX covers the following:
- Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
- Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
- Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
- Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation
After that, you need to take the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. (ABOHN) voluntary certification for occupational health nurses.
To qualify for the Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) designation, you must be an RN with at least 3,000 hours of occupational health nursing experience over five years. To be eligible for ABOHN's COHN-Specialist (COHN-S) designation, you must be a RN with a BSN.
You also must have 3,000 hours of experience, completion of an OHN certificate program or completion of a graduate degree program in occupational health nursing. Regardless of which certification you take, you have to pass the test for them.
The COHN examination focuses on direct clinical care, while the COHN-S exam also tests your knowledge of case management, consultation, education and general management.