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OH Awareness Week - What careers are there in OH?

It is Occupational Health (OH) Awareness Week this week which aims to raise the profile of OH and encourage more people to pursue a career in the Occupational Health speciality. There are lots of different roles in OH such as Doctors, Nurses, and Technicians, and not all of them require a degree. We spoke to some of our OH team to explain what they do and how they got into OH.

Rachel Dunbar-Rees is an OH Nurse Specialist. She has lots of experience in supporting health and wellbeing in a range of industries, including manufacturing, oil & gas, and transport.

What qualifications do you need to do your job?

“To be an Occupational Health Specialist Nurse, you need a good, broad background in general nursing. Some people enter it through mental health nursing. There is a specific degree in Occupational Health and it is a Specialist Community Public Health Nursing Degree with a branch in Occupational Health. It is done part time over 2 years or full time over 1 year. Within that time, you are working in an Occupational Health setting and attending University. However, we have nurses who haven’t necessarily done the degree but have the relevant nursing experience. You don’t have to have the degree to work in Occupational Health but it certainly helps.”

What sort of things do you do in a typical day?

“For me particularly, I work on lots of different contracts but I have some regular contracts too. One of my contracts is for an oil & gas company, who drill abroad, so my work for them will be different compared to a transport company (for example). For them it is a lot of travel medicine, malaria awareness, management referrals, and doing health promotion in the office and organising health weeks. For a transport company it is doing lots of medicals for drivers and also management referrals. We could be at another company doing lots of health surveillance and again management referrals so, everyday can be very different.”

Why & how did you get into OH?

“I started my career in cancer nursing and did 15 years of cancer nursing. After that, I was a practice nurse for a few years and then I decided to do the occupational health degree.

"I got into Occupational Health because it interested me and I was looking for something different and something that had regular hours. My original boss, who trained me, offered me a practice placement.”

What do you like about OH?

“I like the variety as every day is different as you are meeting a really diverse population of people and we can be very proactive. Also, there is lots of travel involved. You are often travelling to lots of different places with lots of different kit. It can be hard work and long hours but equally, there can be days where you aren’t travelling a lot and have regular hours.”

"I like the variety as every day is different"

Acknowledging that all jobs have their challenges - what are the challenges of working in OH in your opinion?

“The challenges are, if a company aren’t wholly engaged in providing occupational health for the right reasons. A company, who might be doing it as tick box exercise because they have been told by the HSE that they should be doing it, can be really challenging because if you want to suggest something that is going to improve practice and they are not engaged with it or you don’t see improvement, can be disheartening. For example, if you have a management referral that has referred somebody in because they have been off sick for a long time. If they are not willing to support that person back and actually, they are using OH as a reason to dismiss someone, that can be challenging. It doesn’t happen often but that is my biggest challenge because I’m a nurse, I want to help people and if I am being used part of disciplinary process, it isn’t a nice place to be. What is really good with AHM, is that most of our clients have engaged with OH for the right reasons and actually they want to do right things by their employees.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the profession?

“What I would say to somebody is, make sure you’ve spent a day with an OH company. Go out and get some experience. Be prepared to be flexible, to be open to travel, to be working autonomously because although you are part of a team, you rarely work with somebody. You are often out there on your own. Make sure you have a really realistic view of what Occupational Health means. You have got to be flexible and you have got to be able to think outside the box because you have got to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right kit.”

Shaun Habbershaw is an OH Technician who has gained experience in areas such as vaccinating, health promotion, and biological testing.

What qualifications do you need to do your job?

“No formal qualifications are required. However, a background in sport science or other related subjects involving anatomy and physiology would be an advantage.”

What sort of things do you do in a typical day?

“Testing can involve phlebotomy, fitness testing, audiometry, to drug & alcohol testing to name a few. Health surveillance is conducted on site for a client or at one of our offices. Each day is different in its own way, it could be a new client in a fascinating industry we have the opportunity to be involved in or managing the day-to-day administrational needs of a client allocated to me. I have a set number of regular clients that I visit on a weekly/fortnightly/monthly and yearly basis, which enables me to build a strong relationship and maintain continuity with their staff.”

Why & how did you get into OH?

“I entered the industry of Occupational Health in 2010 via an administrational role. At the time I was trained as a personal trainer, with courses focused on nutrition and weight management. Having worked closely with the Occupational Health Technicians, I put myself forward for a role that became available. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity and further courses were provided to build on the foundation of knowledge I had acquired to enable me to perform the role.”

"It's a privilege to be in a position of trust"

What do you like about OH?

“You get to meet people from a variety of industries and discuss current or pre-existing health concerns they may have in the workplace. It's a privilege to be in a position of trust where employees are able to discuss their personal health in detail. Being able to identify health concerns and signposting an employee to the relevant healthcare professional is very rewarding, especially if they are not previously aware of the concern.”

Acknowledging that all jobs have their challenges - what are the challenges of working in OH in your opinion?

“Time management is crucial in this role. Employees can be late in attendance or there is change in clinic appointments/attendees/testing to be carried out. You must be adaptable and cope well under stress.

As the role is customer facing, you need to be able to engage with employees of all ages and walks of life.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the profession?

“Not everyone will have the personal attributes to undertake a technician role. As stated before- time management, coping well under pressure and employee engagement are essential elements of the role. If you possess these then you will enjoy the challenge and rewards this profession delivers.”


For more information on OH awareness week:

If you're are interested in joining the AHM team, take a look at our current vacancies:

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