2003 Salary Survey Results

Management is the road to higher employee health salaries

Most EH managers earn more than $60,000

Don’t expect much of a raise this year. If you’re looking for a substantial increase in salary, you’ll have to get a promotion or move to an urban or suburban hospital.

The annual Hospital Employee Health salary survey found that most employee health professionals are getting no more than a 1% to 3% raise (with one in 10 getting no raise at all). Those in urban or suburban settings tend to earn more. Only about 10% of big city-based employee health professionals said they earn less than $40,000, compared with about 20% of their counterparts in medium-sized or rural communities.

Your best chance for bettering your pay is to gain more administrative responsibility. Most employee health managers and directors (63% and 53%, respectively) earn $60,000 or more, while just 15% of employee health nurses earn that much, the survey found. HEH analyzed the responses of 285 employee health professionals from around the country. Most of them work at nonprofit hospitals.

The key is to position yourself as a valuable member of the hospital organization, says Mary Amann, RN, MS, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, executive director of the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN) in Hinsdale, IL.

Be visible and be vocal, she says. "Volunteer to participate to work on teams with some of these complex issues that are multidimensional," she says. "Occupational health nurses have a great deal of knowledge to share and to add to some very complex solutions. I think it takes a little bit of assertiveness sometimes, and a little confidence."

You should demonstrate how your job contributes to the major goals and mission of the organization, stresses Charlene M. Gliniecki, RN, MS, COHN-S, vice president for human resources at El Camino Hospital in Mountainview, CA.

"As one of our indicators, we look at the cost of salaries, wages, and benefits as compared to operating revenue," she says. "If, as an occupational health nurse, I can be effective in helping people get back to work, decreasing the cost of workers’ compensation, disability, or medical care and demonstrate that I have made a contribution to that indicator, that is showing my value in the language that the corporate culture understands."

The bottom line: "If you’re not making your boss look good, you probably aren’t going to be seen as a key player," says Gliniecki.

The opportunities for moving up may grow significantly in upcoming years as long-term employee health professionals retire. Some 54% of survey respondents said they have worked in health care for 25 or more years; 44% are 50 or older.

Broadening your background and credentials may better position you for future opportunities. For example, a survey conducted by ABOHN found that 22% of nurses got a pay raise or bonus and 14% got a promotion or new position after receiving their OHN certification. (The survey included occupational health nurses in any industry; 23.5% of all credential holders are hospital-based, Amann says.)

Those who stayed in their same position were more frequently recognized as experts in their field, consulted in business and practice decisions, and included in multidisciplinary activities, she says."Being certified does make a difference. Beyond the tangible differences, people voiced that they experienced some intangible gains [in their] level of satisfaction and confidence. They were more comfortable in their roles. I think the certification in general helped to validate their knowledge and abilities, as well."

Expertise in additional areas also can enhance your value to the organization. For example, gaining skills or knowledge in infection control, ergonomics, or workers’ compensation case management may broaden your scope, Gliniecki says. Her own background in industrial hygiene helped her take on the role of hospital safety officer when she was director of employee health and safety at the hospital.

Allying with other professionals, such as the safety officer or infection control, may strengthen your capabilities, says Gliniecki. "If you leverage your effort with their effort, you can get at least 10% more done," she says. "When I came here, the infection control person and the person before me were at war. Do you know how much energy that takes?" she asks. "This is relationship building, and it means fence building at times. It takes only one bad thing sometimes to ruin a relationship; and sometimes, it takes years to build it up again."

The benefits you gain won’t always come in the form of salary. By raising your profile in the organization, you may be able to get more resources for employee health.

"It might be a trade-off that if you get this additional responsibility, you get some clerical support or other support in your office to carry out the responsibilities," says MaryAnn Gruden, MSN, CRNP, NP-C, COHN-S/CM, employee health coordinator at Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh. "If it’s something you want to do and it’s important for you to do, then you need to bargain with administration."

Gruden, who is executive president of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals (AOHP) in Healthcare in Warrendale, PA, makes sure the higher-ups know about her involvement with the professional organization. She recently sent a letter to the manager and director of human resources, the employee health medical director, the CEO, and the COO to thank them for their support of her work with AOHP and included the brochure from the annual conference and an article written by a first-time attendee, describing how valuable the conference was to her. "When I came to West Penn, it was important to me for employee health to be a valued part of the organization and that my efforts as [AOHP] president would be supported. I used it as an opportunity to make them aware and to thank them at the same time."

While much of your job may involve complying with regulations, administration needs to realize that you have a much broader focus, Gliniecki advises. If you’re a solo practitioner without the manager title, you should still think of yourself as a manager. "You’re really marketing yourself to your internal customers. Whether you call yourself a manager or an occupational health nurse or specialist, [you should] become so aligned with the operation and getting things done that you become someone they think about including when there’s a new unit opening that may affect ergonomics."