Is becoming an occupational health specialist right for me?

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How to become an Occupational Health Specialist

Becoming an occupational health specialist involves a combination of education, training, and certification. Here is a general outline of the steps to pursue this career:

  • Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: Start by earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as public health, nursing, biology, chemistry, environmental health, or occupational health.
  • Gain Work Experience: While not always a requirement, gaining practical work experience in occupational health or a related field can be beneficial. Consider internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer opportunities in occupational health clinics, public health departments, or workplace safety settings.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree (Optional): Though not always mandatory, obtaining a Master's Degree in Occupational Health, Industrial Hygiene, or a related discipline can enhance your knowledge and competitiveness in the job market. Many positions in occupational health management or research may require a master's degree.
  • Obtain Professional Certifications: Professional certifications are highly valued in this field (see below).
  • Gain Licensure (For Medical Professionals): If you're a medical doctor seeking to become an occupational health specialist, you'll need to be licensed to practice medicine in the state where you intend to work. Licensing requirements vary by state.
  • Build a Professional Network: Join professional associations related to occupational health, such as the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) or the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). Networking can provide valuable opportunities for career growth and staying updated on industry trends.
  • Apply for Occupational Health Specialist Positions: Look for job openings in various industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, government, or consulting firms. Tailor your resume to highlight your relevant education, experience, and certifications.
  • Continuing Education: Occupational health is a dynamic field, and staying updated with the latest research and best practices is essential. Engage in continuing education and professional development to enhance your skills and knowledge.

There are several certifications available for occupational health specialists, depending on their specific roles and areas of expertise. Some of the prominent certifications in the field include:

  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN): Offered by the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN), this certification is designed for registered nurses with a focus on occupational health. There are two levels of certification: COHN and COHN-S (Specialist). COHN-S is for nurses with advanced knowledge and experience in occupational health nursing.
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse Specialist (COHN-S): This certification, also provided by the ABOHN, is for nurses who have already obtained their COHN certification and wish to demonstrate a higher level of expertise in occupational health nursing.
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse - Case Manager (COHN-CM): Also offered by the ABOHN, this certification is designed for nurses specializing in case management within the context of occupational health.
  • Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH): Administered by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH), this certification is for professionals specializing in industrial hygiene and hazard control. It covers areas such as exposure assessment, health risk analysis, and hazard communication.
  • Certified Safety Professional (CSP): Offered by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP), this certification is more general in scope but can be relevant for occupational health specialists involved in safety management and accident prevention.
  • Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM): This certification, provided by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM), is designed for professionals involved in hazardous materials management, including those with responsibilities in occupational health and safety.
  • Certified Ergonomics Professional (CEP): Offered by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE), this certification is for professionals specializing in ergonomics, which is crucial in preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.
  • Associate Safety Professional (ASP): Also provided by the BCSP, this certification is ideal for entry-level safety professionals who work alongside occupational health specialists in ensuring workplace safety.