More unique, non-traditional roles are emerging for oncology nurses to consider for employment outside traditional positions in hospitals, ambulatory care, home care, or hospice settings. These opportunities often enable nurses to expand their skill sets, knowledge, and education while continuing to work with patients with cancer. One of these unique roles is as an oncology case manager.
Nationally, there is a need for oncology nursing expertise with third-party payers, such as Cigna, Aetna, or BlueCross BlueShield, or related health organizations such as CVS Health. These positions may include the titles of case manager, care manager, or cancer case manager. The American Society of Clinical Oncology defines case managers as “educators and advocates for the person with cancer.” Nurses in these roles help patients and caregivers navigate their insurance benefits and coverage in addition to locating resources to meet their medical needs and overall wellness.
In this commentary, Laurie M. Robbins, BSN, RN, CBCN®, answers questions about the background, skills, roles, and responsibilities of an oncology case manager and how to explore employment opportunities.
What is your background in oncology nursing and your current role as a case manager?
I began my career as an associate degree nurse working in an inpatient medical-surgical unit. I cared for patients with a variety of illnesses and many with a cancer diagnosis. That experience helped me build my analytical, organizational, leadership, and time management skills. I then transitioned into radiation oncology, learning about the various treatment modalities. After transferring into medical oncology, I learned about hematology malignancies and solid tumors. I completed the ONS radiation oncology certificate and narrowed my focus to breast cancer, earning my CBCN certification. During these first 5 years of my nursing career, I also earned my BSN and am currently working toward an MSN in Nursing Education. Then I used my years of experience and love for teaching to become an oncology nurse educator. I believe that the variety of my oncology experiences gave me the perfect background to be a case manager, which I have been doing full-time from home since August 2021.
What skills do nurses need to have to consider a position as a case manager?
First and foremost, you must be a great listener, be empathetic, have a friendly and calm phone presence, and be a creative problem solver. Beyond those, you need to be organized, manage your time well, be flexible, and possess self-discipline and an ability to work independently with minimal oversight.
What strategies did you use to find your position, or would you recommend to colleagues looking for case manager roles?
When beginning a job search for case manager roles, the best place to begin is by using existing job search platforms such as Indeed, Zip Recruiter, Career Builder, and others like these. Most case manager roles exist within managed care organizations such as Cigna, UnitedHealth, BlueCross BlueShield, Anthem, and so on. Jobs with these organizations can also be found on their career sites.
However, similar jobs also exist within many healthcare organizations such as large hospitals and private clinics. There are also many case management companies looking for experienced nurses to join their teams directly.
What does your typical day look like as a case manager?
Some daily tasks are required to be completed each day. However, each member (we don’t refer to them as “patients” in case management) is unique and has different needs. In general, my day consists of accepting and researching new cases, completing initial outreach calls to members and providers, documenting my activities, creating plans of care, scheduling follow-up, and assisting members and providers with any other care coordination requests.
What do you like most about your role as a case manager?
Flexibility. My favorite part of being a case manager is the flexibility. I can structure my day how it suits me best, get up to stretch my legs, let my dogs outside, even take a quick walk on my break whenever I want. This may not be the case with all case manager jobs as some cannot work remote, so ask questions about what is important to you when interviewing.
Autonomy. Along with flexibility comes a lot of autonomy. My leaders do not micromanage at all. If I am meeting my monthly metrics and log the appropriate hours on my computer, I can fill my day and complete tasks at my pace and on my schedule.
Salaried. Finally, my role is a salaried position, so I have the flexibility to take off for an appointment as long as I have coverage. Again, if that’s important to you, make sure you address it during your interview.
In this type of role, I can continue my oncology nursing passion for helping others through the cancer journey, just in a different way. I help deliver a positive experience for members, caregivers, and providers.
What advice would you have for a nurse considering this unique role?
If you are considering a role as a case manager, first decide if you would rather work in a physical office or remotely. There are many jobs available in both settings. If you are considering remote work, be sure to include the word “remote,” “telecommute,” or “telephonic” in your job search. Also, consider the location. If you live in a compact state, you can apply for a remote job in any of those states, although you may need to adjust your work hours to cover a different time zone.
Another important consideration is having a quiet and private area in your home to work. You will need space for the equipment, a high-speed internet connection (often paid for by the company), and privacy. Protecting HIPAA and member confidentiality is a primary focus for all case managers and working from home does not lessen this responsibility.
Finally, use your relationships and connections to find available roles. If you know someone working as a case manager, ask for a referral. Hiring managers will look at a strong referral from a quality employee before reviewing a cold applicant. If you do not know a case manager, cast a wide search net, and apply to many positions to give yourself the best chance of securing the role.
In case manager positions, oncology nurses use their clinical expertise and experience, combined with their understanding of the APIE (assess, plan, intervene, evaluate) nursing process to help people navigate cancer care. As Laurie mentions, members (not patients) rely on your nursing expertise to create a plan of care and help them coordinate and navigate that care. Oncology case managers understand the complexity of cancer care and work closely with oncology team members to create an individualized plan because each member’s journey is unique.
If you are considering a change in your current role in oncology, a position as an oncology case manager may be right for you. These positions offer autonomy and flexibility, with options for working remotely. In addition, you will continue to use your problem-solving and therapeutic communication skills while learning new ones.