The world of case management continues to evolve. Those who have been along for the ride over the past few decades have seen quite a bit of progress.

One of those areas of advancement is certification. While not every case manager is board-certified, the prospect of certification is a hot topic and a worthwhile endeavor.

Vivian Campagna, DNP, RN-BC, CCM, chief industry relations officer for The Commission for Case Manager Certification, has been in case management since the early 1990s and has earned a doctorate focusing on the value of certification.

“Certification sets someone apart from others in the profession, showing that they have the competence to take the knowledge they’ve gained and apply it in their profession,” she explains. “It’s an important piece of the professional toolkit that a case manager has that makes you more marketable, improves your professionalism, and can make you an all-around better case manager.”

Although it is not required in every place, thousands of case managers across the country are certified, and the number continues to grow. Campagna says the “goal is to get as many certified as possible,” adding it is “helpful for case managers to gain the newest knowledge that is available, engaging in lifelong learning that helps them better serve in an ever-changing healthcare landscape.”

A Few Hurdles

As with continuing education and certification in other fields, several barriers can prevent case managers from seeking or maintaining their certification, including:

  • Lack of support. Some employers discourage or do not encourage certification, making it less likely that a case manager will work toward it. “If the case manager has the support of an employer, especially financially or with regard to study time and materials, it can make a difference,” Campagna shares.
  • Finances. Especially over the last 18 months, with healthcare workers seeing reductions in hours, furloughs, and other issues, it can be a challenge to cover the fees required for certifications, renewals, and continuing education credits.
  • Case management population. As Campagna notes, many case managers are older, which can lead to a higher level of test anxiety as many have not tested in quite some time.

Preparation

As case managers prepare for certification or recertification, Campagna suggests they first determine in which areas they are most and least familiar with the material in the exam blueprint.

“What do you not know much about?” she asks. “The answer to that question then informs how much you will need to study. There are lots of materials out there — a reading list and core curriculum to give lots of information. Focusing on learning what you don’t know will help case managers to be confident when they go in for the test. Studying is absolutely critical, so first find where your weaknesses are and focus there.”

The 180 multiple-choice-question test itself typically takes about three hours to complete. Organizations like Campagna’s consult with case managers to help them prepare.

“We have a full education team that works with potential applicants to review the blueprint domains and subdomains as well as how to study,” she explains. “Some come to us when they’ve taken the test and not passed it, but don’t know where they went wrong, so we will work with them individually as well. It helps to narrow down what to focus on, where to study, and where to enhance their skills. Not everyone will be successful on the exam. Some don’t have the experience or knowledge behind it to be successful.”

Recertification does not always require retaking the test. Campagna explains many case managers choose to recertify by earning the required continuing education credits instead, then pay the renewal fee for the recertification.

The Benefits

However, it is worth the effort. The certification process can help prepare case managers to serve in a variety of settings, which is especially important when moving from one area of case management to another, more nuanced area.

“What the case manager does in the hospital is different from other places,” Campagna says. “The case management process is applied in different ways. For instance, acute case management has a different focus than in a workers’ comp setting, but the board-certified case manager is adaptable and able to distinguish the differences in application to be effective.”

Maintaining certification is fairly accessible for most case managers. Recertifications occur every five years, within which time they need 80 continuing education units. Numerous programs and courses are preapproved for these units.

Campagna also mentions that once case managers have completed the work to become certified, it is rare they would not recertify because of the increasing importance employers have placed on certification.

“Very few opt out for the sake of opting out,” she says. “Certification is becoming more recognizable by employers. Often, certification is preferred or required; thus, recertification will be necessary. When they have a choice between two candidates, one certified and one not certified, more likely they will choose the certified candidate.”

With the rapidly changing world of healthcare — especially considering the changes brought on by COVID-19 — case managers are finding it more necessary to seek certification to keep abreast of updates to the role and the healthcare system.

“The pandemic piece — with telehealth taking a major focus — if case managers don’t keep up with how that plays out, it can create a problem for them. If they’re not able to function in the same way as they did when everything was face to face, and keep up with trends and what’s new, it will be harder for them to know how to adapt their role and functions moving forward, because it’s evolving fast.”