Occupational health needs clear communication

There is much discussion and disgruntlement within the profession about occupational health nurses (OHNs) being sidelined in the recent health, work and wellbeing co-ordinator posts (although I know that certainly one occupational health nurse was interviewed for a position).

There is worry and anxiety about new health, work and wellbeing courses being developed to train others to ‘do our job’, and yet I know the course providers have welcomed the expertise that OHNs can bring in shaping the courses.

There are opportunities for us, but they are not easy to obtain. We have to ask ourselves: why?

Poor branding

I believe it relates to our identity and – to put it in a commercial sense – our brand. A name or brand is able to convey a message to others to help distinguish between competitors and to tell the target audience what it is the provider can do. It assists the customer to become engaged and purchase a product. It is important.

Mixed messages

Our current message is unclear: what we do, who for, what we are contributing towards. We all have a different answer to these questions.

At the recent Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners’ annual general meeting, OHN Val Thurtle gave an excellent presentation about how the change to specialist community public health nurse status in the Nursing and Midwifery Council registration is affecting the identities of school health nurses, health visitors and OHNs.

Her small study suggests that OHNs have identities which are linked to the requirements and requests of those for whom we work. This means our identity is not distinct, and the messages we send out are muddled and perplexing.

For instance, are we focused on public health because we serve a community and undertake surveillance, or are we serving the needs of the employing commercial organisation which makes us business focussed?

This results in difficulty for people to understand us and leaves us vulnerable to being sidelined. It is a problem for our profession, but we cannot ignore it. It is having an effect on the opportunities available to us. We should and can do something about this.


We need to develop one clear, over-arching message that describes what we do and what we can do for others, like a strapline. It needs to shout about our unique selling point. We then need to learn about other people’s agendas and understand how we can contribute to them. We should then explain this to others and sell ourselves.

This cannot be done alone. It will require us to be positive, to fight and come together as a powerful force. Are you up for it? If your answer is yes, I would be interested to hear your comments via e-mail.

By Anna Harrington (pictured left), a self-employed occupational health and wellbeing adviser. E-mail your comments to [email protected]rises.co.uk



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