A day in the life..of an Occupational Health Nurse

1 March 2012

Ever wondered want an occupational health nurse does?  Terry Buckingham shares how they are "at work for you".

NAME | Terry Buckingham

JOBTITLE | Senior Advisor Health, Safety and Wellness

LOCATION | Otago Polytechnic

7:00am WAKE

My toddler has a great body clock and she normally gets me up before my alarm at 7am. Breakfast routine is predictably a bit chaotic as I try to convince my little girl to eat something before her day at childcare. We eventually get out of the door after much fun negotiating hair and clothes.

8:30am START WORK

Heading into the office, I am sure to grab a coffee at the staffroom and check my email to plan my day ahead. I remember the day I was told “if you like routine, occupational health and safety is not for you”.

Inevitably, the best laid plans for the day can be scuppered by urgent and important issues for the polytechnic. Today was a day mostly out at meetings while I juggled phone calls on anything from height safety issues to the death of a student (fortunately not on campus).

12:30am LUNCH

I like to get out and about for a lunch break and walk up into the Botanic Gardens for a hill climb with my colleague in HR. I can then easily justify to myself eating lunch at my desk as I have at least been for a 30-minute walk to break up the day.

I find it’s important to ‘walk the talk’ when delivering workplace health promotion on a daily basis.

1:30pm BACK TO WORK

Back on campus and straight into a project meeting where we are planning a rebuild and relocation of staff and classrooms to meet the ever-changing needs of the polytechnic. Getting involved early at the planning stages means we can make some important decisions about space, ergonomics and the working environment.

A lot of occupational health is health promotion and injury prevention. Thankfully, gone are the days of the traditional view of nurses in workplace clinics patching up the wounded. Many of us are involved at a managerial level influencing and leading organisations to better health and safety performance.

Nursing Council surveys suggest there are more than 400 occupational health nurses (OHNs) in New Zealand, and over half of these belong to the Occupational Health Nurses Association (www.nzohna.co.nz), of which I am president. We are a very supportive organisation as many of us work in isolation or in small teams.

I was originally inspired to make a move to occupational health during my nursing training in the Manawatu, where I spent some time with the then district health board-based occupational health nurses. After ten years in mainly cardiac care here and overseas, I decided it was time to follow this interest and I haven’t looked back. 

I have been lucky enough to get some great roles and work with some great organisations. I have been in my current role at Otago Polytechnic for three years and really enjoy the diversity here. It’s like a whole lot of workplaces mixed into one with the polytechnic offering engineering trades to horticulture training (as well as a nursing school).  

5:00pm-ish LEAVE WORK

Collecting my daughter from childcare is one of the highlights of my day. She usually has a picture for me that must go straight to the fridge door. After our dinner, bed, and reading-a-book routine, I check in on the Occupational Health Nurses Association emails to see if there is anything I need to respond to.

Just another day in the life of an Occupational Health Nurse – as we say, “at work for you”.