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, 21 (1), 57-88

Occupational Health Nursing and the Quest for Professional Authority

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Occupational Health Nursing and the Quest for Professional Authority

Elaine Draper et al. New Solut.

Abstract

Occupational health nurses provide most of the in-plant health care services in U.S. industry but have dubious credentials to provide care for many of the injuries and illnesses they encounter. The nurses work directly for the employer in an atmosphere designed to control employer costs and employee benefits. Their loyalty to the company and limited autonomy make it unlikely that they will represent the workers' interests. They generally embrace any expansion of their roles within the company. However, employers and government have made no serious effort to determine whether nurses can adequately take on these new functions and advance occupational health. A nurse-directed model carries the risk that nurses who are not knowledgeable enough about the law, or are overly committed to reducing costs, may overdelegate responsibilities, thereby aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of nursing. This overreaching is part of an ill-conceived effort to establish nursing as a profession with the greater independence, expertise, and control over training that longstanding professions such as medicine and law have achieved. An extensive literature devoted to the approval and acceptance of occupational health nursing exists, yet constructive criticism of occupational health nursing is almost nonexistent. Occupational health and safety is much too important to be largely relegated to an inadequately defined semi-profession, striving to attain higher professional status and control while lacking the expertise, power, professional standards, and autonomy required of a profession.

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