Occupational Health Nurse: Interview with Jean Cochrane, RN, CMSRN, COHC

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Occupational Health Nurse: Interview with Jean Cochrane, RN, CMSRN, COHC

Providing education and physical exams to City of Los Angeles employees

By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC
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Jean Cochrane, RN, CMSRN, COHC 
Occupational Health Nurse Supervisor 
City of Los Angeles, Personnel Department, Medical Services Division 

How long have you been a nurse?

I have more than 30 years’ experience as a registered nurse in a variety of practice areas.

What have been your areas of practice?
In my very first position, I worked on a surgical chest unit with lots of tracheotomies and chest tubes. I then moved on to orthopedics before becoming the assistant nurse manager of a stroke unit. I served in that position for 10 years and became a stroke certified nurse.

Once I’d learned and experienced everything that I could about stroke nursing, I pursued a position as an assistant nurse manager for a med-surg unit that also did general medical intervention for an inpatient hospice. At that point in my career, I had done everything in hospitals that I had wanted to accomplish as a nurse, so I began to seek other opportunities.

I applied as a per diem jail nurse for the City of Los Angeles and worked in three jail-based clinics in the city, including 77th Street, the Metro Detention Center and Van Nuys. Every Los Angeles inmate must be seen by a nurse prior to being booked, so I was involved in that process. During that period, I was also a per diem home health hospice nurse.

Interestingly, the nurse manager who runs the jail-based clinics also runs the occupational health center for the City of L.A., so he recommended me for my current position as occupational health nurse supervisor. I’m always willing to learn something new, so I applied and was hired about a year ago.

What inspired you to be such a constant learner?
I’m the type of person who wants to do whatever I do very well; I have to give 100 percent of myself to any position or responsibility. I want to do a good job in whatever kind of nursing I’m doing at the time, so I learn everything I need to and apply myself completely to that pursuit.

Once I’ve done something for 10 years and I’ve learned everything I can possible learn, I often want something new. When I became a stroke nurse, I took the certification exam as soon as possible so that I could deliver the highest quality care possible. When I was the assistant manager of the med-surg/hospice unit, I also pursued those certifications. (I’m still a certified med-surg nurse.)

Now that I’m an occupational health nurse, I’m also a certified occupational hearing conservationist (COHC). I provide education to city employees who deal with high levels of noise, like garbage collectors and police officers. I educate them on hearing protection and the prevention of non-reversible hearing loss.

Occupational Health Nurses City of Los Angeles

Photo above, left to right: Marsha Brandon, RN; Sara Hicks, LVN; Robert Rodrigues, X-ray/lab tech; Jean Cochrane, RN, CMSRN, COHC; Tracy Jones, LVN; Patrica Carter, LVN.

Tell us about occupational health and what lights you up about it.
I have the privilege and honor of supervising a group of RNs, LVNs and X-ray lab techs who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in occupational care to our clients within the City of Los Angeles Medical Services Division, a division of the personnel department.

We deal with a lot of healthy clients because our work consists mainly of pre-employment examinations for City of Los Angeles employees. We perform hearing and vision tests, vital signs and ECGs. We also provide education if we find a knowledge deficit that needs our attention.

For example, for employees seeking to renew their driver’s licenses for city vehicles and trucks (this is called a DL-51), we need to make sure they’re safe behind the wheel. Many of these employees are getting older, so I need to provide education about issues impacting their ability to be healthy and perform their duties safely, such as diabetes, hypertension, weight control, obesity and sleep apnea.

For employees with hypertension, I quiz them about their medications, diets and lifestyles and I help them understand their disease and how it affects them. We also provide education for employees undergoing TB testing and offer appropriate resources and information for those who test positive.

In my position, I provide the type of education that hospital nurses usually don't have time for. I like that one-on-one educational interaction. As a nurse, it’s nice to have the time to provide health-related education. This is the healthiest population I’ve ever worked with and I enjoy it very much.

How receptive are your clients to the education you offer?
It’s very much appreciated. Just recently, another occupational health nurse and I went to the Los Angeles Police Department and administered 400 flu shots in the course of one day. We also educated the officers about the flu virus and its prevention. It’s easy education to provide and it’s nice to be able to offer it to a healthy, receptive population.

A fellow nurse and I also went to Los Angeles City Hall to administer flu vaccines to employees. I had the honor of giving a flu shot to Eric Garcetti, the current mayor of Los Angeles.

Are you responsible for creating educational opportunities?

Not really, since we mostly provide pre-employment screenings. However, we get people involved in programs like the Hearing Preservation Program and we educate city employees over time.

In terms of annual, ongoing education, hearing prevention is the area that requires consistent follow-up. We see many firefighter and law enforcement candidates and I’ve noticed that none of the younger ones smoke. Some of the older employees still smoke, but no one under 35 does. It’s really changed and that’s great news.

What nursing skills are most important in occupational health?

Since occupational health is generally not life-or-death, I don’t have to use critical thinking as much as in other nursing positions. However, communication is important because when employees come in for exams, screenings and education, I need to clearly communicate important employment- and health-related information.

Being willing to learn how to educate this population about appropriate health issues is important. I’ve definitely learned how important hearing conservation is for our trash collectors and police officers and I take that aspect of my job seriously.

Are there certifications to pursue in occupational nursing?
I took the accreditation for doing pulmonary function tests (PFTs). My next task is to start training to become a certified occupational health nurse.

What would you say to nurses who are interested in this area?

In any nursing career, you have to have the basic skills, many of which you can learn as a med-surg nurse. If you like providing education and you thrive on one-on-one interaction and face-to-face education, occupational health is something to consider. However, it definitely wouldn’t be for nurses who love the ICU, technology and the busy pace of the hospital.

Do you have plans for the remainder of your career?

I’m at a juncture where I’m pretty happy in my work. I think this is going to be my last job before I retire. I like working with healthy clients. I’ve done my fair share of codes and exciting interventions — now, I get to provide important wellness education to healthy clients on a daily basis.   


Duties an Occupational Health Nurse Might Perform

  • Treatment of work-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Use and maintain employee health record keeping system.
  • Manage workers’ compensation cases.
  • Assess employees with work restrictions and make appropriate recommendations (e.g., fitness for duty).
  • Conduct health surveillance of individuals/groups for specific hazards.

Source: American Board for Occupational Health Nurses

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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