An Interview with Jennifer Beining, JD, MSN, RN, COHN-S, NE-BC,
System Manager, Clinical Services, Ohio Health Associate Health and Wellness
Jennifer Beining is an occupational health nurse and an attorney, but above all, she is an advocate. Her cause? Health and wellness. She seeks to influence people, groups, and organizations to make the best decisions for their health. We talked to Jennifer in her current position as manager of occupational health for Ohio Health, a private health company in Ohio.
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. In 2000, I graduated with a BSN. During my practicum, I completed a community health rotation at a busy occupational health clinic for a day. It was very different from the inpatient units I had experienced and I was disappointed by the lack of nurse-patient interaction in the clinic. I remember thinking: Who on earth would like to do this kind of nursing? For me, the heart of nursing is health advocacy and public health. I rediscovered occupational health nursing after I became an attorney, while looking for a position that combined my nursing and regulatory background. I started to work at Ohio Health, a family of not-for-profit, faith-based hospitals and healthcare organizations serving patients in central Ohio. To learn quickly, I immersed myself in online resources about occupational health and finally knew I had reached the end of my quest.
Q. Tell me about the field(s) of nursing you worked in prior to making the transition to occupational health.
A. I started my career as a medical-surgical nurse. After a few years, I realized that my real passion was health advocacy. My colleagues and mentor encouraged me to pursue a career in law. I did and specialized in government affairs/public health policy. I had the opportunity to work as a public health advocate in an institution writing tobacco use legislation and developing policies for clean indoor air.
My next internship was in mental health/criminal justice, gathering information to develop a report on the availability and quality of mental healthcare for the incarcerated population, as well as the interaction of police officers with mentally ill detainees. I gained tremendous insight on public health while honing my skills in developing and writing policies for the improvement of practices relating to health and environmental issues.
My entry into occupational health came next with the position at Ohio Health, as they were looking for a health professional with experience in writing health policies. My background in law and policy helped, but I had to learn almost everything about occupational health. There was no formal training available so I searched on the Internet and studied the CDC, OSHA, and AAOHN websites.
I earned a master’s degree in nursing, and during my program, I developed six learning modules specifically for OHN education and was promoted to manager in an occupational health department.
Q. What do you do to stay abreast of your career?
A. I continue to learn every day through interaction with my staff, and in discussions with managers and other professionals in public health. I joined committees that stimulate exchanges and continuously learn from colleagues. For example, I am currently a member of the AAOHN Legislative Committee, as well as a member of the American Association of Nurse Executives.
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. As a mentee, I have been involved in a formal mentoring program through the American Association of Nurse Executives to develop my leadership skills. I have not been involved in a formal mentoring program as a mentor; however, I have developed a culture of continuing education that is both theoretical and practical in the service that I manage. The staff has access to informal support and guidance from their manager, colleagues, and peers. As an example, Ohio Health has multiple occupational health services sites and the nurses are limited to their own environments. It was crucial to get them talking to each other and exchange experiences and questions by starting an informal coaching activity. I further developed this trend by developing specific activities:
- Ongoing needs assessments
- Promoting the BSN and helping students choose their project in occupational health
- Supporting OHN certification by giving additional pay for those certified
- Developing continuing education activities
- Developing nursing leadership counsel
- Developing a shared governance committee
- Starting a recognition program for Nurse’s Week and yearly meetings for OHNs
Mentoring nurses in this way is dynamic, stimulating to my own development, and very gratifying.
Q. What advice would you give to occupational health nurses who are unsure of where to begin developing their careers and exploring leadership opportunities?
A. To start in policy/administrative occupational health, seek a formal course of study in policy or business law. Learn on your own through resources online, and join a professional occupational health association to gain access to colleagues and experts in the business. Above all, find your passion and follow it. Currently, I am able to use my judicial/policy background to write regulations compliant with OSHA and CDC; however, my nursing background and skills are an everyday resource for advocacy on behalf of employees, their families, and the population we serve.