With certifications, you're a 'lot more marketable'

Send a signal that occ health is a career path

Certifications in occupational health nursing are not just alphabet soup. These can save your job in today's economy.

Certifications include certified occupational health nurse (COHN), certified occupational health nurse specialist (COHN-S), case management (COHN/CM or COHN-S/CM), and safety management (COHN/SM or COHN-S/SM).

If you haven't yet taken the COHN exam, you "should seriously consider doing so," advises Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, president elect of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). "It really is a standard of quality that nurses should have. It can give you a huge benefit in trying to get a job," says Campbell.

Continuing your education is a "critical tool" in today's economy, whether doing online coursework, attending seminars, or obtaining higher degrees, she says. "It is your responsibility to take that initiative and move your career forward," Campbell says.

Credentials are "a critical must"

Prospective employers are looking for some type of standard or measure of quality when they make hiring decisions. "Certification shows that you have a certain level of proficiency," says Campbell. "There is really no downside, other than you need to study. If you don't pass, it's a frustrating experience, but that will allow you to go back and relearn what you don't know."

Certification indicates "motivation, engagement in the field, transferrable skills, and knowledge," says Campbell. "In this economy, when people are looking to add value to their business, that certainly would be an indicator of that. It is a critical must."

Campbell says when hiring, she always looks to see whether a nurse has this credential. "To me, it signals a desire for occupational health to be a career path," she says.

Campbell obtained certification because she thought that it would demonstrate competency to employers. "As far as getting positions over my career, I am sure that it opened doors that would not have been there otherwise," she says.

Ann M. Lachat, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, executive director of the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, says the certified occupational health professional is a "good investment for the company's financial bottom line" because he or she can do the following:

• facilitate early return to work processes, with knowledgeable management of occupational injuries and illnesses;

• reduce the employer's legal exposure through management of regulatory requirements such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

According to Tamara Y. Blow, RN, MSA, COHN-S/CM, CBM, FAAOHN, manager of occupational health services for Altria Client Services in Richmond, VA, the benefits of certification are "both tangible and intangible." The tangible benefits are that many employers give raises, bonuses, and/or promotions to employees who have acquired certification. "I have noticed in my 22 years of experience as an occupational health nurse that large employers promote employees with the COHN designation," says Blow. Blow says that in her department, employees who want to enter into a supervisory or case management position initially must have the COHN certification.

Confidence is an intangible benefit, says Blow, which "translates into communicating with the employer on a different level as a partnering expert.""In retrospect, my career boosted significantly after I obtained the COHN certification. I was promoted one month after achieving the certification and received a raise," says Blow. "I then began interviewing for COHN positions at other companies and realized that I was a lot more marketable."


For more information on how certifications can help you demonstrate value, contact:

• Tamara Y. Blow, RN, MSA, COHN-S/CM, CBM, FAAOHN Manager, Occupational Health Services, Altria Client Services, Richmond, VA. Phone: (804) 274-5805. Fax: (804) 274-5489. E-mail: tamara.y.blow@altria.com.

• Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, Global Health and Productivity, GlaxoSmithKline, Research Triangle Park, NC. Phone: (919) 483-2185. Fax: (919) 483-8535. E-mail: kay.n.campbell@gsk.com.

• Ann M. Lachat, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, Executive Director, American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, Hinsdale, IL. Phone: (630) 789-5799. Fax: (630) 789-8901. E-mail: amlachat@abohn.org.