An Interview with Diana Haines, RN, COHN-S, CM

Q: Many nurses in this field originally practiced nursing in a different setting. Tell me about the areas of nursing that you worked in prior to making the transition to occupational health. 

A: When I finished nursing school, I took a job working at a private hospital on a medical-surgical floor, and then later as obstetrics nurse. 

Q: At what point in your nursing career did you discover the field of occupational health, and do you recall experiencing a defining moment when you realized that occupational health was your niche? 

A: Approximately one year after nursing school, I was asked by a friend’s father (who was a head of safety) to interview for a position at a steel mill. I did not know very much about “industrial nursing” (that is what they used to call it). The money was better than I made at the hospital and I would not have to work straight evenings. I went from working with all women to all men. I liked occupational health because it allowed me to both work and raise a family.

Q: How did you prepare yourself to be qualified to transition into the field of occupational health from your original area of nursing?

A: I did not have any additional formal education to work as an occupational health nurse when I first transitioned. Most of my training was done on the job. We had 800 acres of steel mill. The clinic was on-site. We all wore white uniforms because management wanted us to be very visible to the workers. We handled emergencies, acute care, and physicals. We had our own ambulance and would go into the mill to stabilize and transport the injured/ill and bring them back to the clinic. Later in my career, I obtained my COHN-S/CM credential.

Q: Since transitioning to occupational health, in which industries have you worked? Of those, do you have a favorite? 

A: My first job was the steel mill. The next 35 years have been with three companies in the oil and gas industry. Within those companies I have been involved in travel medicine, drug/alcohol testing, case management, acute care, program management, medical surveillance, employee physicals, and more. My favorite job is the one I have had for the last 20 years with BP America. I have been specifically supporting offshore workers for the past six years. I am embedded with their Health and Safety group.

Q: What do you do to stay abreast of your job, and what are your plans for a next job?

A: I have internal courses available to me that are specifically for my company. I need to have Helicopter Egress Underwater Training (water survival) certification before I am allowed to go offshore on a platform. I have had my COHN-S/CM certification for 21 years now. I go to local, state, and national conferences to stay updated in my field and keep my certifications current. I have had many courses in hearing conservation, drug and alcohol-related matters, case management, etc. I attend the Houston Texas Association of Occupational Health Nurses (HTAOHN) events. We have continuing education at the meetings and I have a great opportunity to network with many other occupational health nurses. I am hoping that this is my last full-time job. I do not have plans for the next job. I may need to work part time when I retire. If that is the case, I will network with my colleagues within HTAOHN and look for some part-time work.

Q: From which other professional fields do you seek information in order to develop your professional skills? 

A: Case management, drug and alcohol, safety, industrial hygiene, crisis management, and environmental.

Q: Have you ever participated in a mentoring program? If so, did you find yourself acting as mentor or mentee, and which, in your opinion, was more valuable to you as a developmental exercise?

A: Early in my career, I was mentored by my boss, who was an occupational health nurse. She encouraged me to get my COHN certification. She made sure I had opportunities to go to continuing education classes. She encouraged me to be a part of the HTAOHN. In the recent past, I have had high school students working with our group whom I worked with over the school year to help them learn how to work in a corporate setting. I had a nurse working on her master’s in public health who took a rotation with my health group. I was able to show her how occupational health worked in a corporate setting. I gave her opportunities to learn about the health risks faced by our offshore workers and the associated migrating programs.

Q: What has been the driving force behind your pursuit of higher education

A: I wanted to have a profession that would allow me to serve others and make a difference in their lives. My mother was a nurse, and I was always proud of her and wanted to be like her. I saw my mother raise four children on her own, and I knew that I needed to prepare to be able to support myself and my family.

Q: You have achieved so much academically and professionally. Do you have plans to continue to further your formal education? If so, what are those plans, and what continues to motivate you?

A: My plans are to keep my certifications current. I plan to continue to attend as many conferences as possible, including local offerings.

Q: What has been your most valuable on-the-job learning experience?

A: The most valuable experiences have been since I have been embedded in the business unit. I have been able to learn more about the oil and gas business and the risks involved in the industry for workers.

Q: What do you feel is an area of your practice that you wish to further develop? 

A: I wish to further develop my public speaking and coaching skills.

Q: If you had the opportunity to transition into any industry, performing the tasks of an occupational health nurse, which industry would you choose and why?

A: I am happy where I am now and feel that I have a skill set developed over the years of being here that makes me very valuable and an expert in my job.

Q: What advice would you give to occupational health nurses who are unsure of where to begin developing their career and exploring leadership opportunities? 

A: My advice would be to join the area occupational health nurses’ chapter and find out what other nurses in the field are doing. I would advise that the nurse attend some of the occupational conferences also. Ask a local chapter for resources and spend some time talking to other nurses about what occupational health professionals do.

My job for the past six years has been embedded in the Gulf of Mexico HSE group. My boss is an industrial hygienist. My job is to help mitigate the health risk of the Gulf of Mexico offshore population. I have the privilege to go offshore several times a year to spend time with the workers I support. I go to their environment and can therefore better understand their health risks. I work with the medic regarding programs and procedures. I case manage the offshore workers’ injuries/illnesses, both occupational and non-occupational. I work and drill with the crisis management team to be ready for any crisis that may occur. I help to manage the drug and alcohol program for the office and for the offshore population.