Got Nursing Burn Out? Check Out Occupational Health Nursing

This weekend I had the honor of presenting at the California Occupational Health Nursing Conference. I’ve been to a lot of nursing conferences during my career but this one was radically different.These Nurses love what they do and have very high work satisfaction.

I was in a foreign land, even though I was only in Sacramento, CA. My Nursing experience has primarily been in hospitals except for a short stint in home care and an outpatient clinic. As with JCAHO, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, I associated OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration with necessary inconveniences such as getting an annual fit test for my TB mask, a mask I have never needed in the ten years I have been in Obstetrics. While we often complain, at the end of the day, we appreciate regulations that keep us safe.

photo from

photo from

The Occupational Nurses I met had varied experience, education and roles. I was touched by how warm and welcoming they were. There was a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie that is sometimes lacking in our profession. Many work independently, so they act as resources for each other and know each other on a first name basis. Their breadth of knowledge is broad. Not only are they experts on OSHA regulations to protect employees from health hazards and illnesses, they are experts on disability management, case management, worker’s compensation, health promotion, and counseling and crisis intervention. They also get creative, studying the impact of migrant workers in the wine industry, study the cardiac impact of on duty firemen and investigate conditions of garment workers nationally and internationally.

Occupational Nursing is a growing field because corporations save big bucks having a Nurse or Nurse Practitioner on site to manage employee health and wellness. Nurses may enter the field with a baccalaureate degree, often with nursing experience in community health, ambulatory care, critical care or emergency nursing. Many nurses pursue Masters degrees in public health, or Nurse Practitioner programs with specialties in Occupational Nursing.

While we all have stressors in our home and work life, I polled these Nurses about the impact their jobs have on their stress. The vast majority had worked at the bedside and unanimously agreed they were happier and less burnt out than they were when they were in a traditional role. So if you feel as if you have exhausted other work options, you may want to consider investigating a non-traditional career option as an Occupational Health Nurse.




Perspectives on pediatric nursing and potholes... Meet Okeyse

Okeyse has been a nurse for 10 years - initially as a pediatric emergency room nurse, prior to working as a Pediatric neurology NP.  She currently works in a case management position in pediatric cardiology and neurology.

What do you love most about nursing?

My job is dynamic and very fluid. One day I may counsel a mother on her child's seizure medications.  The next, I may work with a school on a specific educational plan for a developmentally delayed child. Every day I get a good dose of humble pie when I talk to my families. I am inspired and truly amazed at the resilience of my patients.



Tell me your biggest pet peeves about nursing.

As nurses, we don't always focus on our own health and well-being. In the ER, I often heard nurses say, "I've only slept for 3 hours!"- Smiling like it is a badge of honor. I too fell into this vicious cycle, dedicating all my energy into caring for others (family, friends, patients), while neglecting my own needs.  After 10 years of ignoring myself, my body said "NO MORE" and I got really sick. I finally woke up. I found that the more compassion I held for myself allowed me to be a better nurse and better person.


What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?

When life throws me off balance I name these situations “potholes”. Sometimes I can see and feel the imbalance; the potholes may be small enough for me to drive right through them, but sometimes they are massive, pulling me down and I can’t escape. That sinking feeling is when I know I am out of balance.

my friend Jenna, making the best of her "pothole"

my friend Jenna, making the best of her "pothole"

Here is how she navigates her potholes:

Knowing that life is hard- After years of struggling with trying to understand why my life was so difficult, I heard a Buddhist nun give a talk.  She simply stated the fact -“Yes! Life is hard.” Once I learned to accept this, I let go off focusing on the “why” and shifted to how to manage my daily difficulties.  

I tend to want control over every aspect of my life. But I have learned through mindfulness meditation to just let go of wanting things my way and shift to the idea that life is what it is in the present moment.  This letting go, restores my balance.

Funniest Nursing Story

A little boy was brought to the ER with ear pain which started six months prior.  The mom delayed treatment due to her lack of money and health insurance. I did an assessment and asked him if he happened to hide any goodies in his ear. He smiled widely and said “mommy told me the tooth fairy would give me money for my tooth, so I put it in my left ear!” The mom, mortified said “well...he told me a few weeks ago that there was a tooth in his ear, but I didn't believe him. He has such an imagination.”  The ENT (ear, nose and throat) team eventually dislodged the baby tooth from deep within the ear canal and the boy went home with a teddy bear.

photo by wakefielddavid

photo by wakefielddavid

Advice to New Graduates:

Explore opportunities outside of your city or even your state. I came from a small town in Texas. My nursing degree brought the opportunity to explore new cities and cultures as well as new ways of practicing medicine, which contributed to becoming a well-rounded nurse. You never know what doors or opportunities may open up for you if you just take a leap of faith.

If you plan to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner, I would recommend at least a few years as a nurse prior to graduate school. I started after a year as a new nurse and I wish I waited.  I felt like I needed additional nursing training in order to be the best I could be as a Nurse Practitioner.