Are you an experienced Nurse with curiosity around a career in occupational health? We spoke with Jennifer Mason, one of our Occupational Health Advisors who supports some of our corporate clients in London, about the journey she took and her experiences in the role.
- How did you start out in Nursing?
‘I originally specialised in intensive care nursing after qualifying as a registered nurse back in 1979 and progressed to cardiology nursing where I studied and completed the BSc (Hons) degree in critical care nursing (cardiology) at the University of East Anglia. This is where I worked until making a Millennium decision to change course from acute care and into OH. I decided that I wanted to try to keep people well rather than make them better.’
- Why did you choose to specialise in Occupational Health?
‘It was either going to be teaching, OH or Health Visitor! All areas were of interest and it was OH to be the first discipline that became available to me. I was offered a job on a major construction project with high safety risks due to it being a gas powered power station with compressed tunnelling out to sea. I exchanged a silver buckle and state of the art CCU for a porter cabin and steel toe capped boots! I was kindly given the radio code name of ‘nursey – nursey’ which I felt was not very PC. If working on a construction site you soon learn not to be PC in the slightest! It was in fact a term of endearment which I became rather fond of in the end. I managed to undertake a research project on coronary risk factors in construction workers and my results were published. The study identified a very high number of people with undiagnosed elevated blood pressure and cholesterol with approximately 40% of the workforce with one major risk factor. This resulted in changes in the canteen menu and overtime a distinct drop in BP and cholesterol.’
- What further education did you complete to work in Occupational Health?
‘I completed the OH diploma course and then went on to do the NEBOSH (health and safety certificate) and HAVS Course (Hand arm vibration syndrome). It is a catch 22 getting into OH sometimes. You need a qualification in OH to get a job but you can’t get a qualification without being in an OH job. I got my opening through having emergency advanced life-saving skills and the ability to deal with a major disaster / event (plus an OHP who had faith in my ability to learn OH).’
- Have you worked for other companies in an Occupational Health capacity?
‘I have worked in industries ranging from off shore oil and gas, medical research, Lotus Cars, John Lewis to name but a few. All very different and very enjoyable. OH is OH, it is the work that other people do that is different. I have worked my way up to Head of OH and back to where I now want to be, an OHA delivering clinical services. Nuffield Health is special and one of the few organisations that I truly believe does put its own people first. That is what makes it stand out for me and why I doubt that I will ever leave. J’
- When considering an OH career some people may wonder what it’s like to work in a corporate site environment. Please could you tell us about your experience?
‘A massive question that could go on and on…. I have tried all and every job has its place. For me I have the experience and knowledge to work autonomously but have great support when I need it and love working from home. Although I work remotely, I never feel like a remote worker. You have to be disciplined and not easily distracted and happy to have your own company (I do have a couple of cats and dogs so never truly alone). The ethos at NH is not dissimilar to John Lewis, I think that our core values and principles are very similar and that is a good thing. As we are a not for profit organisation; I like that money is reinvested where it is needed and not to shareholders as in my experience, shareholders can influence budgets and necessary expenditure. Working for a large corporate client has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes it is hard to remain entirely neutral if you are on the same payroll as the workers and this can cause conflict and suspicion. In my opinion, it is best when employed by a neutral company delivering clinical services but it can feel like you are neither one or the other. There are so many variables in OH, there is usually something for everyone.’
Jenni also chose to share with us a specific story around her work and the value she was able to add as an Occupational Health Advisor to someone’s long term health.
‘In Occupational Health we apply the principles of the biopsychosocial model to the care that we provide to our clients and their employees by exploring how the social and psychological factors can influence physical health. During a routine health surveillance monitoring programme for a car manufacturing company that I was providing occupational health for, a worker being assessed for potential upper limb disorders through a HAVs assessment process presented with what appeared to be bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome. The work that he was required to do included repetitive actions on a piece of machinery that was being repeated by several other people. No one else in his team had been affected and once he had been provided with diagnostic investigations and subsequent surgery to correct the damage to his wrists, I attempted to explore why he had become so vulnerable to developing this condition. It emerged following detailed clinical assessments that he was demonstrating symptoms associated with obsessive compulsive behaviour (OCD) and with further investigation found that he was repeating the task through checking and rechecking in the same time that his colleagues were undertaking the task as a single activity from start to finish. The result was causing a repetitive strain caused by a compulsive need to repeat the action often associated with people experiencing symptoms of OCD. He was referred to a clinical psychologist and was provided with a course of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) which allowed him to change his behaviour and be able to continue the tasks required of him at work without causing himself future harm. The benefits of the CBT were not only found to help him at work but also in his personal life as checking and rechecking tasks (having to go back to check if the door was locked, oven off etc) had become a way of life for him and were also remedied through CBT. Identifying and correcting the physical complaint was only effective in the long term when we were able to identify the root cause of the problem, the OCD behaviour affecting his psychological health.’