Most nurses do not enter the workforce with the ambition of becoming an occupational health nurse. In fact, most nurses likely have no clue that there is an occupational health nursing specialty, let alone all that the specialty encompasses. This was certainly true in my case.
I first became aware of the field of occupational health in 1993 as a new employee in a small suburban hospital in the Detroit, Michigan area. I was hired as a Nurse Extern, having completed one year of nursing school in an associate degree RN program. I recall going into the basement of the hospital to complete some new hire requirements, and seeing a sign hanging from the ceiling in a long dark hallway that read “Industrial Medicine.” It sounded so cold and foreign to me, and I had absolutely no clue what it meant. I only knew that was where I would receive my hepatitis B vaccinations. Once those were completed, I did not encounter that long dark hallway again until…
Fast forward a few years to somewhere between 1996 and 1997. I was working on the medical-surgical floor of that same small hospital. As a contingent employee, I was always the first to be cancelled when my unit had a low census. One particular day, I received a call to cancel my shift. However, on this day, I was also informed that the Industrial Medicine Department was in need of a nurse to administer hepatitis B vaccinations as part of a bloodborne pathogen training program at a local police department that morning. I was asked if I would be willing to do this, and I hesitantly agreed. I had no idea what to expect, or what this “Industrial Medicine” thing was all about, but it turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened to me in my nursing career. This was my introduction to occupational health nursing.
I still recall that day, sitting in a room filled with police officers, listening to the Industrial Medicine Director give a bloodborne pathogen presentation. At the conclusion, he explained the importance of hepatitis B vaccination, and he offered it to any of the attendees who were interested in being vaccinated. I have no recollection of how many hepatitis B vaccines I administered that day, but they were the first of thousands of vaccinations I would give in the years to come.
That first experience was an open door to a whole new dimension of nursing, and one I somehow knew suited me perfectly. I developed a rapport with the Industrial Medicine Director, which led to increased opportunities for work. The Industrial Medicine program provided occupational medicine services for hundreds of area businesses and municipalities, and before long I had regular assignments with many of these clients. I remember one trucking business where I would sit weekly in the cafeteria as part of a wellness program, checking blood pressures, and offering counseling and educational material based on the needs of the employees. Some other memorable assignments involved providing monthly new hire tuberculosis and bloodborne pathogen training for county employees, performing tuberculosis exposure testing and follow up at the county jails, and administering flu shots at 4 am at a car manufacturing facility while automobiles on the assembly line circled overhead. My assignments took me to many unusual and interesting places, and I covered thousands of miles.
I continued accepting every opportunity that came my way while still working as a medical-surgical nurse at that same small hospital until 1997, when the hospital closed its doors. Industrial Medicine became Occupational Medicine and relocated to a nearby healthcare center. I was able to transfer to a larger hospital in our system as a contingent medical-surgical nurse and continued working assignments for Occupational Medicine.
In 1998, a full-time position became available for a Case Manager at the Occupational Medicine Clinic, and I accepted. From there, I moved into a Clinic Manager position that lasted until 2001, when cuts eliminated RNs from the clinics. Fortunately, the Occupational Medicine Department had contracts with a local automobile manufacturer to provide nursing staff in their facility medical departments. This allowed me to broaden my experience and work in automobile manufacturing for the next two years, providing injury care, physical examinations, and medical surveillance to employees at several area automobile manufacturing facilities. While working in this capacity, I became very acquainted with OSHA and all the wonderful things that are part of that arena.
2003 was another year of transition, as the contract for nursing staff with the automobile company was not renewed with my employer. Fortunately, a part-time Employee Health Nurse position opened up in one of the four hospitals in our organization, and I was hired into that position. I spent the next six years in that role, working 24 hours a week as a “one-person department,” serving more than 1,000 employees, physicians and volunteers. That experience exposed me to every aspect of occupational health in healthcare.
In 2005, I was introduced to AOHP by a colleague and attended my first chapter meeting. I immediately recognized the value of AOHP, and I embraced the opportunity to connect with others who could relate to my situation, and who shared my questions and frustrations. My involvement with AOHP has greatly impacted my career, providing extensive educational and networking opportunities, as well as access to resources that are necessary to effectively carry out the responsibilities of an occupational health professional in healthcare. I attended my first AOHP National Conference in San Antonio, Texas in 2005, where I also sat to take the ABOHN COHN exam. I was so excited when I learned I had passed!
As I worked in Employee Health, I found I particularly liked the area of workers’ compensation. Of course, I found it both frustrating and rewarding – depending on the particular case and circumstances. At one point, a position opened for a Workers’ Compensation Case Manager in our Corporate HR Department. I contemplated applying, but for some reason felt it was just not the right time for a move. I continued working in Employee Health, and in 2010, another opportunity for a Workers’ Compensation Case Manager became available. This seemed to be a logical next step for me, and I applied. I began working in that role in early 2010. I took the ABOHN Case Management Certification test that spring and passed. I continued on in that role, working with administrators to improve the Employee Health and Safety Program at our organization. I was able to use much of the knowledge obtained at AOHP National Conference sessions to make progress in our organization, and to affect positive changes.
In 2014, my employer joined forces with two other area healthcare organizations to form a new healthcare organization, employing more than 35,000 healthcare workers. As one can imagine, this has been a huge endeavor, presenting many challenges, while at the same time presenting a unique opportunity to develop a top notch Employee Health and Safety Program. We are now more than three years into this endeavor. We still have a long way to go, but 2018 promises to be a year of great progress.
It is hard to believe I have been on this occupational health nursing journey for more than 20 years. I sometimes wonder where my nursing career would have taken me had I not accepted that first invitation to give hepatitis B vaccinations at the police station. I am so grateful for the broad range of opportunities I have had in occupational health nursing, and I think it is especially awesome that every opportunity came while working for one employer. There is no doubt in my mind that occupational health nursing was my calling, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
By Peggy Anderson, RN, COHN/CM
How many people can say they had the best career ever? How many people can say they worked in their dream job during their career? How many people can say their job is not a job, but a mission? There may be many people who can give positive answers to these questions. I am one of those people.
Being a nurse is the only career I’ve ever wanted. As a young teenager, when I saw my aunt walk into our house with her crisp, white, 3/4-sleeved nursing uniform, white cap, white panty hose, and shiny white clinic nursing shoes (I’m dating myself), I was instantly hooked! I smiled and remembered thinking, “THAT’S what I want to be”. As I look back on that day, that moment, I believe it was something about the uniform – the clean, white, pristine uniform, and what it stood for – that hooked me. I might add, my inherent nature of helping others put the bow on this box.
The nursing profession has been good to me. I have had the opportunity to work in many areas of this fascinating, ever-evolving profession. From my perspective, there has been unlimited learning, growth, and development, and simply the pleasure of meeting and helping so many people in so many different ways. From others’ perspectives, it is my hope someone can say I have helped them feel better, get better, live better.
As life happens and priorities change, there came a time when I needed to transition from the shift work we nurses know intimately to work hours more conducive to the needs of my family. I was very fortunate to then move into my current role in occupational health nursing. Of course, it remained a nursing position. I would still be helping others in the healthcare setting, and impacting patient care. Instead of taking care of the patient at the bedside, I was now helping the workers who took care of the patients. This facet of nursing was new and different for me, but it was exciting because I am a lifelong learner; we all are.
My new leader introduced me to AOHP, letting me know this organization would be an excellent resource. She suggested I attend the National Conference the second year I was in the department. That conference was held in St. Louis, MO, and I’ve only missed one conference since. This speaks volumes to the quality speakers, pertinent information, and wonderful colleagues and friends I have had the pleasure to meet and interact with over the years. Once I became involved in the organization, there was no turning back. Knowing one could make an impact locally, regionally, and nationally – yes nationally – was like a shot of adrenalin! Again, I was hooked.
I cannot begin to tell you everything AOHP has meant to me and my career, but what I can tell you is this organization is worth every moment of my time. Yes, attending conferences, being a part of committees, contributing to the listserv, or whatever the involvement, is a wonderful way to volunteer by investing a little extra time and effort. We all volunteer in different ways, and being an involved member of AOHP will yield many rewards, big and small. If you haven’t been involved, start small – attend a meeting, participate on a call, answer an email.
We all have something to offer. Whether you think it or not, you really do. Even a smile can make a difference in someone’s day. What we do for AOHP as volunteers will further our cause and mission to the occupational health industry. Think of what we can accomplish if 1,000 members commit to one – only one – thing. We could change the occupational health world!
Although I don’t wear a white uniform, cap, panty hose, or shiny clinic shoes anymore, the nursing fervor still rages strong and remains vibrant in me. And although we’re all doing more with less in our daily jobs, I still find some time to consistently volunteer with AOHP. So can you. We are counting on you to support us with your intellect, wisdom, and camaraderie. We need you, and we all need each other. Thank you so much for considering how you can make a greater difference in the field of occupational health through AOHP. You are awesome!
by Lydia Crutchfield, MA, BSN, RN
Kim Stanchfield, AOHP Executive Journal Editor, discussed who should get a flu shot, why many don’t, and why you should on WHSV-TV, Channel 3, an ABC affiliate in Harrisonburg, VA. The One on One Interview with host Bob Corso aired in early December and continues to be available on the station’s website.
Check this out.
Elizabeth Andrews, the first woman Labor Party organizer in Wales, once said, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.”
Employee/occupational health professionals are advocates for the health and safety of those we serve, and we hold our fellow healthcare workers near and dear to our hearts. We are the champions for many, with direct assistance from very few team members. Due to our long list of commitments and responsibilities, we often refrain from volunteering during those precious moments of time we have remaining. But I encourage you to reconsider, because the rewards of volunteering are great. Discover how you can partner, network and share your expertise with other AOHP members by giving back to your professional organization. Below are just a few examples to support you in living AOHP’s vision as the “… defining resource and leading advocate for occupational health, safety and well-being in healthcare.”
Consider serving today! AOHP volunteer activities include, but may not be limited to:
- Chapter Board Member
- Chapter Subcommittee Lead (by-laws review, membership drives, education, etc.)
- Executive Board Member
- Publication Proofreader (e.g., Journal)
- National Subcommittee Member (Education, Government Liaison, National Conference)
- Assistance with various National Conference initiatives (e.g., greeter, introducing speakers, registration table, etc.)
Every person can make a difference. Your knowledge, experience and enthusiasm can provide great benefits to AOHP. Volunteer today! (Contact AOHP Headquarters at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Stacy Stromgren, MSM, BSN, RN, COHN-S
AOHP Executive Secretary
Life as an employee health nurse/manager tends to be more then we can handle at times, so why would anyone take on more by volunteering. People have asked me that and I must admit when my job gets so crazy and I am finding that working a 45-hour work week is a dream, I also ask myself that. Then I realize I am not alone. Employee Health nurses are all struggling with the same issues. What if no one volunteered?
Volunteering helps me be part of that community, a community of employee health nurses. I must say this is an excellent community to be part of. It is a community where we give and receive as we volunteer.
Volunteering is a way to help mentor new employee health nurses. How confusing it is to be placed into a role where there are no experts at your work place. Don’t forget that even if you have been an employee health nurse for a long time, there is always something new to learn. Volunteering to help AOHP as an organization to build a community where individuals can learn and find support is important.
Through volunteering, I am able to touch base with experts from around the country to help me grow and that helps me to do a better job at work and also be more confident in myself. I have had the opportunity to meet with the National TB committee discussing TB testing and risk assessments. I have met with individuals from Japan and Ireland as they have come to learn about our programs in the US. I have been exposed to individuals working on respiratory protection and safe patient handling programs with NIOSH.
Prior to being a board member, I always wondered about the board members. Why do they volunteer, how do they do it? What are their jobs like? Now as a board member, I know that the other board members are working very hard at work and then give back to AOHP when not at work. They share a bit of time of their lives to help all of us. They do not have easy jobs, and the volunteer because you and AOHP are worth it.
If you want to be energized, volunteer. Volunteering does not only help others, it helps you. You may think there you have no time, but we are all busy and could all say that. Just look around and think about how much time you can share with AOHP. Take small steps. Can you help plan an educational session for a meeting? Are you good at bank statements, then maybe you could be the treasurer of your local chapter. Maybe you can take the minutes at a meeting and then email them out to the others as the secretary.
Remember volunteering helps you
- Gain new knowledge and expertise.
- Give back to others as you were helped by other Employee Health Staff.
- Create new connections with other Employee Health Nurses.
- Achieve a sense of accomplishment as you assist others.
- In your current position as well as develop new career opportunities.
When everyone shares through volunteering, we all benefit.
Bobbi Jo Hurst, BSN, RN, COHN-S SGE
Annie Wiest e-mailed me and asked if I would tell the story of how my career evolved into the field of employee health. Holy cow; where do I begin?
Well, waaaaay back in the dark ages when I graduated from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in Worcester, MA (so long ago that the school is no longer around), I did not think “Oh, I want to be an employee health nurse”. In fact, I don’t think the specialty was even in existence. My first love in the profession was in a surgical intensive care unit. I loved the excitement, working with all the machines and tubing everywhere, and seeing the patients progress from bed, to chair to ambulating. What a great feeling!
From St. Vincent’s Hospital, I worked on a med/surg unit at Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg, MA, and eventually found my way to Vero Beach, FL, where I met Dr. James Cain, who awakened my passion for orthopedic nursing. What a wonderful mentor he was. I credit all my knowledge and experience to him.
After 10 years as a nurse manager at Indian River Memorial Hospital, I migrated back to my roots in New England, where I spent the next several years as a nurse manger, still in orthopedics, at both Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, RI and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Providence, RI. By now, the field of employee health had begun to emerge. I remember having to go to the Employee Health Department and thinking, I wonder what she does all day long, in this tiny office, all by herself. Wow, times have changed!
As luck would have it, I was involved in an RIF (reduction in force – i.e.; layoff). How devastating! I was very fortunate to be recruited by Southeast Georgia Health System. They kindly brought me to a nice warm climate. I stayed with my passion in orthopedics for a few more years and then moved on to the Education Department. I loved, loved, loved my education position and worked under Human Resources. Well, don’t you know, the employee health nurse also worked under the Human Resources Department, and I was the designated person (don’t know how this happened) to cover her when she was away. Oh my, how I dreaded this responsibility. I was in constant fear that someone would get stuck with a needle, and then what would I do?!
The fateful time and day, which will be recorded in infamy, came on Wednesday, March 7, 2001 at 8:01 am to be exact. (I remember it like it was yesterday.) It wasn’t a needlestick, but another RIF process that changed my future. How can this be, that I am again involved in another layoff? Historically, education is the first to be downsized and, as they say, where one door closes and other opens. The employee health nurse had handed in her resignation and was getting married and moving away. I was strongly urged to take her position. OMG! Now what do I do?! Those dreaded sharps injury images were dancing around in my head!
After sleepless nights and many, many tears thinking that I would never take care of patients again, I realized that I was not losing patients but in fact, was gaining patients – 2,300 to be exact! Well, 15 years later, I have found my second passion in nursing. This journey of mine has been a very rewarding experience, and I would not change it. Working in the specialty of occupational health, I have made many friends who have helped me and who I have helped along the way. The best part of my day is seeing all the employees, as they all know me and I know most, if not all, of them. They confide in me about issues they are facing both at work and at home, and I love assisting them in making decisions to help solve their problems.
I can truly say I would not be where I am today without AOHP. The camaraderie is beyond compare, and I have developed some life-long friendships. These friendships would not have been nourished if I had not taken the plunge and become active at both the chapter and national levels. I challenge each and every one of you to get involved with AOHP, step up to the plate and be heard. Let your passion show! You won’t be disappointed.
Cecelia Baroni Granahan, BS, RN, ONC, COHN-S
When I was asked by Annie Wiest to tell my story of how I entered the specialty of employee health in healthcare, it took me a few days to be able to articulate the journey. I suspect that, like many of you, this was not my planned destination. It is actually the end of a rather scenic journey, with many twists and turns, bumps and detours, ending with a sense of being in the right place.
As a young nurse working the ER night shifts in Boston, I remember thinking I wanted to be able to help nurses be better nurses. It was a random thought and soon forgotten – but remembered years later. Fast forward through 20 years of a wonderful nursing career, in ERs across the country as a traveling nurse, then on to family practice and then into the peri operative world at my current employer.
One day, while waiting in line for my flu shot and feeling sorry for the sole RN running the program, I offered to draw up flu shots for her. Remembering my family practice days, the assembly line began. The next year, I volunteered to help again and had fun seeing my friends and colleagues line up voluntarily for their flu shots. Little did I know where volunteering for the flu shots would lead.
Several months later, the EH Nurse Manager came to find me on duty, tapped me on the shoulder and pulled me into a private room. She had just submitted her retirement paperwork and personally came to invite me to apply for her position. I had not thought of employee health nursing and didn’t know much about it, except for giving flu shots. But it was time for a change, so I applied and became more and more intrigued as I learned about the unique specialty. A few months later in my new position, I remembered my late-night random thought about helping nurses and knew I was in the right place. It was the place where I was supposed to be all along, except that my reality was bigger than imagined. Instead of helping only nurses be better nurses, I was helping all healthcare workers be better and safer.
Again, like many of you, my learning was done at the table of AOHP chapter meetings and via email consults with my new colleagues. My first National Conference (Sacramento 2006) was where my knowledge came together and, more importantly, when I gained the confidence to reach out for advice when I didn’t know what to do next. After awhile, I began to actively participate in AOHP to give back to the specialty that has given me my place, my skills, as well as my professional passion.
It is delightful to now be the one to extend a personal invitation to others to help them find their place and, most importantly, to help employee health nurses be better employee health nurses through volunteering with AOHP.
It is with this in mind that I challenge you.
Who can you invite into this specialty? A tap on the shoulder and private conversation might be the beginning for someone else. Think of the new hires you see. Who can you invite to explore our specialty when they are ready to learn something new? Do you have an opportunity to talk to student RNs at your facility while in line or on the elevator? Who in your professional community might you invite to an AOHP meeting or talk to about an upcoming conference?
And, most importantly, get involved with your local AOHP chapter for colleagueship, education and a place where your work is understood and where you can be taken care of while you take care of others.
Nancy Johnson, BSN, RN, COHN-S