Victoria Smith-Douglas
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Geographer, writer, educator.

When you were a child and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, case manager is probably not the response that immediately sprang to mind. But this is one of those areas that, while it may not be well-recognized among the public, is in fact a vital role within health and social services, offering the possibility for a highly rewarding career. Case management is seen as a growth area, with a 13% increase in jobs forecast between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, could case management be the career for you? 

What is the role of a case manager?

Case managers work with a range of vulnerable people, including the elderly, children, those suffering from addiction and anyone with physical or mental health issues. A case manager coordinates the care and support services for their client, ensuring that they get what they need for their well-being and recovery. You’ll often work as part of a case management team, sometimes within a hospital, another healthcare facility or an agency providing human services. 

Case management is a great career for someone with a strong combination of social and problem-solving skills. Communication is an essential part of the job, as is compassion for those you help. It requires the ability to analyze complex situations and identify the best solutions. Case managers are concerned with the whole person, addressing physical, social and psychological needs, so a broad education is required. They also need to be able to handle a varied workload, with regular duties ranging from meeting with clients in their homes to organizing paperwork, producing care plans and advocating on behalf of clients in meetings with various other professionals.

Why is case management important? Without a case manager, the individual would be left to navigate various healthcare, legal and social services for themselves, at a time in their life when they're in need of support. Because the case manager focuses on the client’s total needs, they can identify where there may be gaps in their care and ensure services are delivered efficiently. It may be the case manager who makes sure that an elderly person is able to access their prescribed medications or a child has access to the support services they need at school or who advocates for a recovering addict on probation to receive the treatment they need.

5 steps for becoming a case manager.

1. Decide which area of case management you want to focus on.

There are two main areas for case managers: healthcare and social work. Before you embark on job applications or further study, take some time to figure out which route is right for you. Participating in some volunteer work may be an excellent way to learn what type of clients you'd like to focus on. Check out volunteering opportunities at a local hospital, assisted living facility or counseling group. This type of work experience could also help you get into an appropriate study program.

2. Earn a relevant degree.

Although technically there could be possibilities for case management positions with just a high school diploma, most require at least an associate’s and probably a bachelor’s degree. Acquiring a BS or MS in nursing with Registered Nurse status would be required if you want to work as a nursing case manager. If you want to concentrate on social work, either a bachelor’s or master’s in social work would be valuable, as would obtaining the relevant social worker licensing for your state. Other degrees are applicable, including human services, psychology and counseling.

3. Gain work experience. 

You may find it useful to build up experience in your chosen area of specialization before moving up to a case management position. Alternatively, you may look directly for positions in case management. Take the opportunity to complete case management internships during your degree if at all possible. 

4. Get certified.

It is possible to gain accreditation as a nursing or social work case manager after gaining work experience, and doing so would open more doors for career advancement. There are several options, depending on your field and background.

5. Grow your career.

There are many options for those working in case management. You might stay within one area or expand your skills to work with a wider range of clients. Case managers also have the possibility to branch out into roles as counselors, nurses or social workers, depending on their specific qualifications.

What are the five principles of case management?

Case management is underpinned by the values of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence (first do no harm) and justice. Case managers strive to achieve what's best for their clients, while also considering efficiency for the various service providers involved. The aim is to assist clients to recovery and independence by assessing needs, creating a care plan, coordinating the delivery of services and evaluation. There are five key principles guiding this process.

  • Advocacy: speaking up for clients’ needs.
  • Communication: listening to clients and communicating with other service providers.
  • Education: raising awareness with clients and other professionals.
  • Identification of service resources: analyzing the services available to the client and their costs.
  • Service facilitation: ensuring services are delivered appropriately.

What is a case-manager salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for case managers was $65,320 in 2018. Salaries can vary widely depending particularly on the experience the case manager has and on the work setting or employer. Nursing case managers tend to earn more. The range is from under $40,000 to over $110,000.

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