Need & Impact

Over 40% of occupational health nurses surveyed in five south-central states were interested in obtaining a higher degree, but lack of financial support and distance to education created significant barriers to enrolling in graduate education. Although no comparable study was discovered for the Central Appalachian Region, the area incorporates many economically disadvantaged counties. Rugged terrain and limited higher education institutions compound the challenge of obtaining a college education, particularly at the graduate level.


While there is one other DNP program in Appalachian Kentucky, there is no academic setting that offers a PhD in nursing and no PhD or DNP nursing training program in OEHN except for the University of Kentucky. The PhD in OEHN is critical to the leadership and direction of the nursing discipline to provide the foundation for evidence-based practice and to shape work environment policy. However, the occupational safety and health workforce is ‘graying;’ a large number of occupational nurses are over the age of 50 and few are entering the profession. In fact, OHNs are more than 5 years older than the average age of all employed RNs. The estimated current and projected 5-year supply of OHN program graduates is only about 24% of the future need. While there are 18 funded ERCs in the U.S., the AAOHN continues to call for occupational health and safety to be included in all nursing curricula, both undergraduate and graduate.


The focus of OEHN training has been on Master’s prepared nurses, with less emphasis on preparing PhD or DNP educators or researchers. Our OEHN training program helps fill that gap, with a focus on both preparing researchers and practitioners in OEHN.