Guest Column

Certification unifies CMs in diverse field of practice

Multiple credentials can complement each other

By Kim Schuetze, ACSW, CCM
Chair-Elect, Commission for Case Manager
   Certification (CCMC)
Rolling Meadows, IL

Case managers come from a variety of professional backgrounds and practice in a number of specialized areas. They may work in hospitals, outpatient environments, insurance, third-party providers, or home health, or may specialize in nursing, behavioral health, social work, vocational rehabilitation, physical therapy, or occupational therapy. With this rich professional diversity, case management provides an important cohesive element.

My own professional background is social work and for the past several years as a hospital social worker. My responsibilities and duties include working with families — particularly parents of ill and injured children — to assess their needs and provide access to resources. In addition, I am part of a multidisciplinary team that also includes physicians, nurses, and other care providers. I am proud of my background as a social worker and my credential from the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW). Recognizing my role as a patient advocate and a steward of care resources, I also became a Certified Case Manager (CCM).

With these two credentials, it may appear that I am wearing "two hats." In truth and practice, however, I see them as completely complementary, one enhancing the other. Moreover, I believe that as a CCM, I have effectively leveled the proverbial playing field with nurses and other caregivers, finding more common ground between their practice areas and mine.

More importantly, I know that both professional credentials — as an ACSW and CCM — hold me accountable to higher standards. My decisions and actions must be weighed against professional standards and codes of ethics (including the Code of Professional Conduct for Case Managers, adopted by the Commission for Case Manager Certification). As any case manager who has other licenses or credentials, I am always cognizant of the standards of my field — as well as the professional criteria and ethical practices of being a CCM. At all times I am aware of the legal, ethical, and moral consequences of what I do — including how and with whom I communicate.

For example, in a hospital environment, there is the potential for confidential information about a patient, family situation, or aspects of a case to be discussed and communicated. Often, this sharing of information is necessary as a multidisciplinary team addresses the needs of the patient and/or family. Unnecessary or frivolous sharing of information, however, is strictly forbidden and against ethical practice. If I were only a social worker — not licensed or certified — then I could face dismissal from my job should I violate the standards or code of ethics of my place of employment. Certified as a social worker and a case manager, however, I face the more serious consequences of the loss of my license and my certification.

These consequences are neither punitive nor limiting of my ability to perform my job, to be a strong advocate empowering patients and their families or to help facilitate communication between the various parties on the treatment team. Rather, I see these ethical and professional standards as elevating what I do, reminding me of the importance of every decision and action I take and commanding the respect of other professionals with whom I work. I view licensure and certification as a source of pride.

In social work and in case management, we deal with a very vulnerable population. There can be subtle violations of ethic standards: an off-handed comment, information that is shared indiscriminately with a colleague. Through certification, I am constantly reminded that my role is to protect the consumer and the public. There is no doubt where my priorities lie.

For all of us in the case management field, the certification and licenses that we bring to the table unify us. We appreciate the fact that we come from variety backgrounds; that we practice differently with specialties that enhance the way we carry out our responsibilities. As certified case managers, we are bound by common professional standards that bring ethics to the forefront of all our practice actions.

(Editor’s note: Kim Schuetze, ACSW, CCM, is the Chair-Elect of the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC).

Schuetze, who has spent more than 10 years in health care and hospital social work, currently is a hospital social worker at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, KY.)