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2009 Salary Survey Results
Occupational health salary increases "minimal" but role continues to cross boundaries
Take a risk on new skill sets
During a meeting with an employee about a worker's compensation issue, you encourage him to take advantage of a discounted YMCA membership.
While doing an environmental assessment for toxic chemicals, you teach workers about Material Safety Data Sheets. At the same time, you mention some ways to reduce exposure to pesticides in the home.
After working with the safety committee on ways to decrease trip and fall injuries, you find yourself recommending some of the same strategies during a "lunch and learn" on making homes safe for the elderly.
These are all examples of the kind of "boundary spanning" that is done on a daily basis by occupational health professionals, says Margie Weiss, PhD, CEO and community health advocate at the Weiss Health Group, a Neenah, WI-based consulting company that works with companies and communities on health and wellness.
In your workplace, people are almost certainly being challenged to do more with less. That is why the "boundary spanning" you routinely do is a big trump card to play right now.
"One of the biggest challenges occupational health is currently facing is breaking down the silos between health and wellness and safety," says Weiss. "You need to promote linkages."
Not surprisingly in this economic downturn, Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, clinical assistant professor of the Occupational Health Nursing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that we are seeing "modest increases, if any" for occupational health nurses.
According to the 2009 Occupational Health Management Salary Survey, over half (55%) of respondents fell into the $70,000 to $79,000 range, with 18% earning less than that amount. Another 9% earn between $80,000 and $89,000, and 18% make over $90,000. Nearly half of respondents (45%) reported a 1-3% increase in salary in the last year, and 27% received no increase at all.
The survey, which was administered in August and tallied, analyzed, and reported by AHC Media, publisher of Occupational Health Management, identifies some of the factors impacting salaries and benefits in occupational health. Other key findings of the survey:
Almost half of respondents (45%) work less than 40 hours a week, 27% work between 41 and 45 hours, 18% work between 46 and 50 hours, and 9% put in over 50 hours.
About one quarter (27%) of respondents have worked in occupational health for only one to three years, with another 18% in the field for between four and six years.
The vast majority of respondents (82%) supervise a small staff of between one and three employees.
Over three-quarters (82%) of respondents said they had no changes in the size of their staff in the past year, while 9% lost positions.
Act as a leader
Without question, the occupational health role is continuing to expand and overlap. Randolph says that she is seeing an increased emphasis on occupational health playing a "public health" role. One example of this is educating the workforce in prevention of diseases such as influenza and antibiotic-resistant infections.
One growing challenge for occupational health is dealing with an aging workforce. This means ever-growing numbers of employees with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, obesity, and hypertension.
"Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also the most preventable," says Randolph.
With these challenges in mind, Randolph advises nurses to become certified both in occupational health nursing and other areas that apply to your practice. Some examples of these are case management, safety, hearing conservation, or spirometry. "Take the lead on projects at work to demonstrate your skills," says Randolph. "Be willing to take a risk and learn new skill sets. Take on new responsibilities and keep current with technology."
More occupational health physicians are taking a leadership role in population health management. "They are leaders in designing health enhancement programs and working with employers and their management teams to develop a culture of health," says Pamela Hymel, MD, MPH, FACOEM, president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Elk Grove Village, IL. "As we look at the aging of our population and poorer health, this is a very important role for occupational medicine for the future."
Another trend is occupational medicine physicians in private practice acting as the health advisor for small and mid-sized employers. "The biggest challenge is getting enough residency trained physicians into the communities, or at least getting primary care physicians trained to deliver competent occupational health services," says Hymel. "Having prevention and health protection as critical elements in health plan coverage for the future, and using the expertise of occupational medicine physicians to design effective plans for patient engagement, is a great opportunity for occupational medicine in the future."
Step into new roles
Weiss says that two new areas of focus for occupational health are safety and sustainability, and recommends getting involved in both. Here are ways to do this with confidence:
Write health and wellness messages for "toolbox talks" given to safety managers.
Incorporate health promotion messages into safety training sessions. For instance, you might team teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation, check blood pressure of employees, or administer flu shots.
Encourage safety trainers to approach training with a "worker as athlete" perspective. Emphasize the importance of ongoing conditioning and healthy eating.
Ask to be appointed to the company's sustainability committee. "Find ways to decrease waste in your practice," says Weiss. "Encourage biking to work, both for exercise and to decrease carbon production. Decrease energy use onsite by shutting off computers at night."
Take a leadership role in prevention activities, such as H1N1 education.
Go onsite and into the field more often.
Weiss recommends doing stretching exercises with construction workers or performing onsite testing services yourself. You can also combine office ergonomic assessments with environmental assessments, to address the quality of air and lighting.
In all of these endeavors, social networking vehicles such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs can be a big help to you. "These are great tools for sharing information and establishing credibility," Weiss says. "On various sites, you can get automatic alerts on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, or every time a new posting is up. This is a great way to get health and wellness information."