The field of occupational and environmental heath offers nurses opportunities to prevent injuries and illnesses in workplaces and public health settings. They may work in industry, healthcare, government or academia, directly with workers or in research or teaching.
Some nurses burnout from treating people who are critically ill or injured and decide to devote their careers to prevention. A program at the University of Minnesota School of public health (www.sph.umn.edu) teaches them about prevention on individual, community and societal levels.
Most students enter the Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing Program for a master's degree in Public Health, but they may also earn a master's of science or a Ph.D., according to Patricia McGovern, program co-director.
Where They Work
Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing students are interested in law, politics and economics as well as healthcare, and they like to plan, implement and evaluate programs and policies affecting people's health, McGovern says. After graduation, they may care for employees in manufacturing facilities, corporate headquarters, hospitals or healthcare systems. Insurers may employ them to work with clients, or they may work as consultants to businesses that can't afford full-time occupational health nurses.
Those in manufacturing work to identify risks to workers' health from the job, such as excessive noise and heavy lifting. They also consider the health problems of workers who have chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. These nurses organize interdisciplinary teams to develop policies and programs to help workers.
"Ultimately how you react to your environment is a combination of what is in the environment and what you bring to it," McGovern says. "They use that information to develop policies and programs that promote worker health and protect them against injury and disease."
Masters of science candidates tend to enjoy reading, writing and doing descriptive research. They may work at the state's Department of Health, do basic research for health insurers or teach nursing. Ph.D. students want to do quantitative research, write grants and oversee large studies of worker health, McGovern says. They may also write curricula and teach in areas such as public health and nursing.
One current student will do an internship this summer at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington, D.C., McGovern says. A recent graduate has landed a position with a major manufacturer, writing a curriculum for the company's worldwide nursing staff.
Maura Boesch, who received her doctorate in nursing practice and master's in nursing and public health, has transitioned from work as an occupational health nurse in manufacturing to teaching.
"When you're looking at public health, you're trying to improve the health of populations. I really feel the dual degree program prepared me with the knowledge to do that," Boesch says. "Nursing and occupational health just open the doors for a lot of career opportunities."