Development of a career and competency framework for Occupational Health Nurses working in New Zealand using participatory action research
This participatory action research (PAR) study was undertaken to review the New Zealand Competencies for Practising as an Occupational and Environmental Health Nurse (2004) document and develop an integrated career and competency framework for nurses working in the field of occupational health. The 2004 competency document needed to be reviewed to ensure Occupational Health Nurses (OHNs) have up-to-date guidelines for the skills and knowledge required by businesses to support and promote the health and wellbeing of the workforce, as well as enabling OHNs to identify their training requirements and career planning. Eight OHNs (including myself) from Christchurch over a 10-month period applied a PAR approach to this qualitative study. The nurses actively engaged in the project from research design to dissemination so linking theory and practice. Achieving the aims and objectives required collaboration, democratic participation, joint decision making, sharing resources, gaining knowledge, and empowerment. The study had six phases. Recruitment of the OHNs occurred during the first phase and in the second phase information was collected through a questionnaire gaining awareness of the OHNs role within the workplace. This information stimulated the first action cycle inquiry. During the third phase data was collected from transcripts of the PAR group meetings. The fourth phase was reflection of the PAR theoretical process of the study. This reflection included understanding what occurred leading to the turning points and what sustained the PAR group. From this phase, evolved phase five, formation of a sub-PAR group, and phase six of the study when the original PAR group reconvened and four subsequent meetings were held concluding the study in May 2015. The study provides contribution to PAR by showing importance of the time commitment of homogenous co-researchers, and role of primary researcher. A number of areas were identified by the nurses as important skills and knowledge areas for occupational health nursing. Areas include fitness for work, health promotion, risk assessment, legislation and standards, leadership and management skills, research and professionalism. These skills and knowledge topics were then expanded and applied into the career framework from competent to expert nurse. The final participatory cycle involved distributing the framework to the New Zealand Occupational Health Nurses Association to complete the review. The outcome of this research is an integrated occupational health nursing competency and career framework which has been disseminated nationally to New Zealand OHNs waiting for feedback. It is expected that the framework will raise the profile of OHNs within New Zealand, and the vital contribution they make to the public health strategy and supporting businesses to apply employment legislation.