Susanna Everton is vice-president and London & South-East regional director of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (UK), a member of the development group for an OH nursing faculty and an independent occupational health nurse and safety practitioner. Here, she summarises what she has learned from her experiences in the OH profession.
How did you get into OH?
Many years ago, as a ward sister in general medicine, I was aware of the many cases of men in their 50s who were crippled by preventable conditions. It made me think how to target the working population before they became hospital cases. This led me into occupational health, where, as well as looking at the effect of work on health, one could also influence workers on their health and on the work they were employed to undertake.
I applied to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for a place on the OH Certificate course (this was the only available course at the time). It was difficult to get sponsorship from any businesses, but luckily I received a grant from the local authority which allowed me to give up my NHS job and study full time.
- State Registered Nurse (St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London)
- Occupational Health Nursing Certificate (Royal College of Nursing)
- NEBOSH Certificate (Distinction)
- MSc in Occupational Health and Safety Management (Brunel University). Dissertation on the “Hearing of orchestral musicians” (Credit)
- Tropical Nursing certificate
- Advanced Food Hygiene for Managers
- Noise at Work Assessment and Management
- Principles of Auditing OHSAS 18001
- Principles of Clinical Audit
- Vice-president, AOHNP (UK)
- Director, AOHNP (UK)
- HSE working party for Control of Noise at Work in Broadcasting and Entertainment Industries
- British Red Cross first-aid trainer
- Royal College of Nursing steward
- Many articles for Occupational Health and IOSH magazine Safety and Health Practitioner.
- Presented regularly at international conferences and seminars.
- Contributor to Contemporary occupational health nursing: a guide for practitioners 2013, published by Routledge with a chapter on health surveillance and report writing.
- Currently an independent OH nurse and safety practitioner. A Registered Occupational Health Nurse since 1986 and a Registered Safety Practitioner since 2005.
- Awarded chartered membership of IOSH in November 2005.
- 2013-2014: Occupational health and safety manager, Lloyd’s Register
- 2007-2012: Head of occupational health, safety and welfare, City of London Police
- 2005-2006: Occupational risk manager, BBC
- 2002-2005: Team manager occupational risk, BBC
- 1986-2002: Occupational health nurse specialist, BBC
- 1982-1985: Sister acute medical unit, Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton
- 1981-1982: Staff nurse, acute medical unit, Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton
- 1980-1981: Lieutenant, Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
- 1979-1980: Staff nurse, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, City of London
Like many people embarking on a new career, I discovered that businesses want a qualified person; however, when qualified I found that businesses wanted an experienced person.
Who were your influences?
A strong motivator for me was the tutor on the RCN course – Mavis Gordon – and the depth and breadth of the course. We covered topics from epidemiology to toxicology; and the effects of ill health on work through to health promotion. Coming from a reactive clinical background, this was an eye opener and laid the foundation of my belief in occupational health.
I see it as a holistic, proactive branch of medicine that requires identification of problems and the development of practical solutions.
I have also been influenced by colleagues, notably Christina Butterworth [past president of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (UK) (AOHNP)], who I first worked with at the BBC.
What other influences have been important?
My general training was at Bart’s Hospital, and I will always be grateful for the quality of the experience I received there.
We were told that a Bart’s nurse should not accept things just because, but should always question. This enabled us to look at a patient or condition, a treatment or care plan, in a different way and use our knowledge and training to offer alternatives. We were encouraged to aim for the highest possible standards in all that we did, and I have carried that on into my OH practice. I have always felt the need to perform to the best of my ability and am my own worst critic when I fall below my standards.
These days, it is common for women to work throughout their lives, but when I was newly married I was one of the few among friends and colleagues to be working full time, and I thank my husband and family for their support.
Working at the BBC has also influenced my life in OH. When I started there, the role was very much as a “handmaiden” to the doctor, where I was providing first aid and treatments to the staff, and having limited autonomy.
During my 20 years there I became an independent practitioner, respected by peers for my knowledge and experience, a recognised expert in my field of noise and musicians, called upon by others to give talks and be part of influential working parties. These activities were supported by the BBC, which also offered me the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This led to a new career in health and safety and enabled me to view safety in the workplace through the eyes of a healthcare professional, and to view occupational health from a safety adviser’s perspective. I think that this has widened my experience and practical application of health and safety in the workplace. I was well supported in this at the BBC by my manager Bob Forster (fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, who now runs one of the leading media safety organisations).
What are your priorities and goals in your current role?
I am currently working independently and, owing to other commitments, I am concentrating on my roles with the AOHNP and the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN) working group. My role within the FOHN group is to look at the governance, charitable status, constitution and the risk and compliance of the new organisation. There is a lot to do in a relatively short time.
What motivates you today?
I have seen a lot of change in OH practice over my career, and am really looking forward to OH nursing coming out of the shadows and being recognised as a profession in its own right through a new Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing. I am also proud to be part of this and in a position to influence OH nursing practice for the future.
I am very concerned that there is a shortage of new blood coming into the speciality and that so many nurses are not aware of this pathway for their career development. I think that OH is one of the most interesting and varied of nursing areas, and one of the few where the practitioner can work in so many different ways – as a sole provider, part of a team, running their own business, working in the NHS or for large corporations, and working closely with many different professionals. They can be “hands on” or remote, or could get involved in writing and advising at local or international level.
What advice would you offer to those new to OH or early in their careers?
It helps to have had experience in life whether in other occupations prior to starting nurse training or in other aspects of nursing. OH nurse practitioners work in a huge number of different settings, but often on their own, where they are the sole representative of their skill set. They need to have the confidence and experience to make decisions and defend them.
Organisations such as the AOHNP are there to support OH nurses in their practice when they need help and guidance on particular issues or a network of other professionals to liaise with.
In my experience, it is useful if your first OH job is with a company employing other nurses and OH professionals. This would be an opportunity to gather practical experience working alongside others, and in as many different settings as possible. This will build up the core skills and understanding of how businesses work to enable progression to the point where you feel able to “go it alone”.
It is also very important to keep up to date with changes in health and safety legislation and know where to find resources. This will include continual professional development, membership of appropriate professional bodies and access to peer-reviewed research and journals.
OH nurse practitioners also need to be aware of their legal status with regard to Nursing and Midwifery Council registration and validation, codes of professional conduct, public liability and professional indemnity insurance that can protect them in their practice.