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Brian Verrall, M.Sc., DOHS, RN, COHN(C), COHNS/CM, FAAOHN

Certified in occupational health nursing

Why did you become certified 30 years ago?

When I graduated from nursing school in 1968, I went immediately into the occupational health nursing field. I met a patient in the hospital who had been seriously injured in an industrial accident. The concept of combining emergency room nursing and public health nursing really intrigued me. I accepted a position at Dominion Foundries and Steel in Hamilton, which was a very progressive company regarding health and safety. They encouraged their staff to improve themselves through continuous education.

I joined the Hamilton occupational health nurses association and through self-study and group study, applied to and successfully wrote the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses exam in the United States. At that time in Canada, there was no equivalent certification and I felt that, to be recognized in a very small section of nursing, I needed to have some credential awarded by a recognizable institution. At the same time, I joined the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association (OOHNA) and, because of my successful completion of the American exam, was asked to join their working group to establish a Canadian certification in occupational health nursing.

Through multiple meetings with CNA, their testing service at the time, and others in the Ontario health and labour ministries, a group of Canadian occupational health nurses led by OOHNA developed an occupational health nursing certification exam for Canada. This exam was administered by the former Canadian Council for Occupational Health Nursing. This council administered the certification exam for a number of years, awarding the credential CCOHN. Eventually because of the increased interest and success in this credential, it became too large for volunteers to handle and was eventually sold to CNA to be part of their certification program. As a result of being on the original development team that decided on the exam questions and because of my American certification, I was awarded Canadian certification.

Why have you maintained your certification?

I have maintained my certification in occupational health nursing because it is an indicator of my knowledge and skill in the field. Since it requires continuous education to maintain, it demonstrates to employers my dedication to the field because of my constant upgrading of my knowledge and skills. I have been a registered nurse in Ontario for more than 49 years and have spent my entire career in occupational health nursing.

How has certification helped you in your career?

My certifications, both in Canada and the U.S., have assisted me in obtaining professional positions in industry, academia and in consulting. My involvement and my certification in Canada and the U.S. were the main reasons I was asked to run for the board of directors for the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses. Because of that work and my involvement in occupational health nursing in the U.S., I was nominated Fellow of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.

These international experiences helped me in my career and enabled me to take speaking engagements at conferences and meetings in many countries.

Certification also enabled me to acquire a position with the Ontario Ministry of Labour as an occupational health nurse consultant. It also helped me acquire a position at McMaster University in the occupational health program and in their school of nursing. At McMaster, I was able to obtain an Ontario Ministry of Labour grant to design and implement one of the first continuing education courses in occupational health nursing for registered nurses in Ontario at the community college level. After my retirement from McMaster, my certification enabled me to obtain the position of executive director of the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association. It’s also helped me get many consulting positions during that time.

Do you have any messages you would like to share with nurses about the importance of continuous learning and certification?

Continuous learning is absolutely essential in any profession. In nursing, and especially occupational health nursing, it is even more important because of the ever-changing health issues in the industry and commerce. We continually face new chemicals, new processes, changes in provincial and federal legislation, such as the legalization of cannabis. Being up to date and involved is critical to health professionals. Certification and its process for renewal requires continuing education.

What makes you most proud about being certified?

I am proud of both my certifications, but especially my Canadian one, as it was one of the first certifications in nursing in Canada — and I played a role in its development and success! I played a major role in the ability of Canadian certified occupational health nurses to obtain American certification by reciprocity and vice versa. I continue to promote CNA certification amongst my colleagues and students, as it gives them a method of demonstrating to their clients that they have knowledge and skills in their chosen specialty.