Professional development

Health care organizations must support CM education

No continuing ed means no CCM; no CCMs means no accreditation

The want ads reflect the value health care organizations place on well-prepared case managers. Supervisors of case management staffs nationwide are seeking case managers with BSNs and the CCM, or certified case manager certification, from the Commission for Case Management Certification (CCMC) in Rolling Meadows, IL.

Although they demand case managers come to them with the highest credentials, too many health care organizations fail to support their case managers’ efforts to maintain high professional standards. For example, many employers make it virtually impossible for case managers to complete the 80 hours of continuing education required every five years for CCM recertification.

"It’s to the employers’ benefit to allow case managers the time and resources necessary to maintain their certifications," notes Marcia Diane Ward, RN, CCM, project manager in small/medium business global marketing industries for IBM in Atlanta. "The benefit is that employers go out to market their services with this statement: We hire only certified case managers.’ Increasingly, health care organizations can’t sell their case management services — or receive accreditation for them from national accrediting organizations — unless their staff includes certified case managers. They are literally out of business unless they have a CCM on staff."

However, there are complications, adds Deloras Jones, RN, MS, director of divisional nursing for Kaiser Permanente California Division in Oakland. "At the same time the technical demands of the health care industry require more educated nurses, we have declining enrollment in our nursing baccalaureate programs nationwide," she says. "It’s a real dilemma. We need nurses who are better educated to meet the complex and changing roles in the industry, such as case management. And we have an entire generation of nurses close to retirement without an adequate supply of properly prepared nurses to take their places."

Case managers must work with their employers to find creative ways to support their professional development efforts, say Ward and Jones. Here are five suggestions to help case managers meet their education needs and, in doing so, benefit their employers’ marketing and quality improvement efforts.

1. Set aside dedicated funds early in the fiscal year to pay for conference and workshop attendance. "Conference planners are now making concessions for the financial crunch faced by case managers," notes Ward. "Some conferences offer one-day passes, discounts for more than one attendee from the same organization, and other incentives. Don’t be afraid to ask about potential discounts. Barter, if you must. No one is more creative than a case manager at negotiation — use it to your own advantage."

2. Allow time off to attend local chapter meetings of your professional organizations. State and local chapters of national professional organizations, such as the Case Management Society of America in Little Rock, AR, offer inexpensive continuing education opportunities, Ward says. "These groups usually meet once a month, and they bend over backwards to accommodate employer schedules," she says, adding that many groups meet early in the morning or on Saturday.

3. Hire a clerical support person or allow a case manager time to search the Internet for educational opportunities. "Try to get your employer to pay a case manager overtime to gather information on the Internet and then share it with other case managers at a lunch-and-learn session," Ward suggests. "Many case managers don’t have the time to surf the Internet for the many educational Web sites. Some of these sites offer continuing education credits for health care professionals."

4. Provide educational opportunities in the workplace. Kaiser now offers an affordable, convenient program for its nurses with associate’s degrees who want to advance their careers by earning a BSN, Jones says. The nursing degree program is a joint effort between Kaiser’s Calif ornia Division and Holy Names College in Oakland. Instead of hurrying from work to a college campus for studies, students attend classes one night a week via teleconference in classrooms at the Kaiser medical centers where they work.

"We already had the teleconferencing network. That made establishing the nursing program very easy," Jones says. "The instructor comes to a central location and the class is broadcast via our video network to various Kaiser campuses."

Since the program began, 96 Kaiser nurses have earned their BSN degrees and 200 currently are enrolled in classes. "It takes most of our nurses two and one-half years to complete their degrees," Jones says. "Kaiser doesn’t pay for nurses’ tuition, but we were able to negotiate a low rate because the program is generating revenue for the college."

In addition, Kaiser offers continuing education courses for no fee or a nominal fee to its nurses on a routine basis. "It’s really important for leaders in the health care industry to partner with educators to ensure the ongoing competencies of their work forces."

"The BSN degree program teaches nurses the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to move into more complex roles where they can make decisions regarding patient care delivery," agrees Maureen Asamiquela, RN, PhD, director of educational partnerships and distance learning for Kaiser. "Most nurses who get their BSN degree go on to receive master’s-level training, which enables them to become nurse practitioners and nurse managers," she adds.

Kaiser offers its nurses a master’s in nursing through Sonoma (CA) State College. "This program is also offered over the teleconferencing network. Nurses can earn a master’s in nursing leadership or case management," says Jones, adding that 50 Kaiser nurses are enrolled. (For more on distance learning, see Case Management Advisor, December 1998, salary supplement.)

The master’s program recently was expanded to add an Internet-based program, as well. The bachelor’s and master’s programs are open to the community.

5. Subscribe to publications that offer continuing education hours. Take advantage of continuing education opportunities available through professional publications. "Many case management and nursing publications offer continuing education credits," notes Ward. "It’s not as stimulating as networking with your peers at conferences, but if your organization doesn’t allow you time off to attend professional meetings, these publications may be a viable option for you."

"We are on the verge of a serious shortage of qualified nurses in this country," Jones says. "If health care organizations want to meet the changing needs of health care, they must support the education efforts of their nurses. As a nation, we must change the way we view and value nursing as a profession."

"Case managers must reclaim their autonomy as professionals," Ward urges. "Your employer needs you to maintain your certifications and professional licenses, and that requires continuing education. Explain that continuing education is not an option — it’s a necessity."

Managed care organizations can’t get licensed or receive accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations without a CCM on staff, Ward adds. "A simple reminder of those facts may make your employer more willing to support your education needs."