2005 Salary Survey Results

Growth slow overall, but more men entering field

Advanced degrees and more training in safety programming and tracking becoming a trend

Following what appeared to be a growth year in the occupational health field, readers of Occupational Health Management report that they saw fewer new nurses coming to work for their employers in the past year. The field, however, did see a slight increase in the number of men.

These were two of the findings from the 2005 Occupational Health Management salary survey. The survey, which was administered in August and tallied, analyzed, and reported by Thomson American Health Consultants, publisher of OHM, illustrates some of the key factors that may influence salaries and benefits among occupational health professionals.

Income remains steady

Salaries continue to increase steadily. In gains similar to those reported in the 2004 survey, 42% say they received raises of 1% to 3%, and 27% say their raises were in the 4% to 6% range.

Though there were increases, it seems salaries were actually lower than those reported last year. In 2005, just over 57% say they earn between $50,000 and $80,000; in 2004, 63% reported they were in that salary range.

However, a larger percentage of respondents this year reported earning more than $130,000 —21% in 2005 vs. only 12% in 2004.

Respondents were predominantly occupational health care managers, coordinators, and directors. Nurses with bachelor's degrees made up 35% of those responding, and 3.5% are master's level nurses. Occupational medicine physicians were 20% of our respondents, and readers holding MBAs made up 3.5%.

The greatest percentage of responses came from occupational health professionals working in hospitals — 72%. Just over 17% work in clinics, 3% for health departments, and almost 7% are in private practice. Only 1% report that they work as independent occupational health consultants.

Branching out into safety

Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, a clinical instructor in occupational health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN), discussed the survey findings with OHM, and suggests that continued training, advanced degrees, and branching out into safety are trends that likely will be seen in the field of occupational health.

"One change or trend that we've noticed seems to be that more occupational health nurses are having some safety responsibilities," she observes. "They are asked to take over safety as well as nursing, and to some extent, those go hand-in-hand. If someone gets injured, you want to know how it happened and how to prevent it happening again, and there may be some safety issues involved."

Tee L. Guidotti, MD, vice president of ACOEM, says today's generation of corporate managers is showing reinvigorated interest in what occupational health and safety can bring to their companies. "I think there is a growing interest in our long-term, strategic value," he says. "I am hearing some arguments [among corporate managers] about occupational medicine enhancing productivity and reducing risk and liability."

Guidotti observes that the traditional areas of corporate medicine seem to be making a comeback. "There seems to be an increasing number of corporate medical departments restaffing, and we think that has to do with a learning curve about what occupational medicine can bring to the workplace."

Randolph says the new interest in occupational health nurses taking on safety responsibilities is reflected in the new certification offered this year by the American Board of Occupational Health Nursing (ABOHN), the Safety Management credential (COHN-S/SM or COHN/SM). Eligibility for the safety credential includes the COHN or COHN-S core credential, work responsibilities consisting of at least 25% safety activities, 50 contact hours of safety-related continuing education, and 1,000 hours of experience in the preceding five years.

Is growth of field stalled?

Both Guidotti and Randolph say their observations indicate the field of occupational health is burgeoning, with new interest in the value of services occupational nurses and physicians can offer, as well as expanding capabilities within the professions. But readers who responded to the OHM survey seem to say growth in the field coasted a bit in the past year.

In 2004, 62% of respondents said the occupational health staff at their workplaces had grown, but this year, only 36% saw gains in positions within their departments; half of those responding said there had been no change, up or down, in their departments. As with last year's survey, 12% reported job losses within their departments.

Randolph says even in times when companies are looking for ways to tighten spending, "there always will be a need for someone focusing on health and safety of the workplace, whether that will be as an employee of that organization or through a contract position."

The aging of America's workforce – reflected also in the ages of our survey respondents – creates health and safety issues that will continue to put occupational health on employers' priority lists, she says.

"As the health care costs associated with aging are escalating, employers are starting to look at [the value of workplace health and safety] more closely," Randolph continues.

Guidotti says it's important for all occupational health professionals to sell employers on the value they add to the company.

They may be getting the message: In a survey AAOHN conducted earlier in 2005, when asked about the value they place on occupational health nurses in the workplace, nearly 60% of employers surveyed described their occupational health nurses as "invaluable" to their company.

"The way for all of us in the occupational fields to recover and get back the influence we historically had is to take care of the fundamentals," Guidotti says. "We need to show the value we add and demonstrate our utility."

A job for the experienced

As in previous years, the respondents to the OHM survey are a mature lot. In 2004, 12% of those who answered were younger than 40. This year, none of the responses were from anyone younger than 36.

This finding is in keeping with the fact that occupational health has traditionally been viewed as a field into which nurses move after they have earned experience in other specialty areas.

This year, almost half — 48.5% — of respondents have been in health care for more than 25 years; however, only 12% have been in occupational health care for that long. The majority say they have been in occupational health fewer than 15 years.

People apparently do not choose occupational health because of shorter working hours. Again this year, survey participants say the notion of a 40-hour week does not emerge in their workdays.

Eighty-five percent say they work more than 40 hours per week, with 17% working more than 50 hours per week.

Still working to bridge gender gap

Again this year, the OHM survey reflects a huge disparity between the number of women in the field and the number of men. While men make up the majority of occupational medicine physicians, the majority of occupational health nurses — and nurses in all fields — are women.

Daniel J. Pesut, RN, PhD, CS, FAAN, president and chair of Sigma Theta Tau International honor society of nursing, says men are slowly making inroads into the traditionally female bastion of nursing.

"There have been increases in men who are entering the field; I think [the honor society's] latest data show nationally men making up 9% of the nursing work force," Pesut says. "It used to be 6%."

In the nursing honor society in the last two years, Pesut says, there has been a 1% increase in membership to 127,000.

"Men have many choices in terms of specialty areas," he explains. "The literature suggests most men gravitate to areas like the emergency room, critical care, anesthesia, and psychiatric mental health, as well as nursing administration and teaching."