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Roles of professionals

Roles:


Workplace team

The following are the roles of workplace professionals who can help the employer and employee with returning to or remaining at work. Typically, medium or large employers have such professionals on staff whose areas of expertise include return to work. For smaller employers, this is less likely but they may have access to consultants with relevant expertise.

Human resources professional

As part of their job, human resources professionals manage the disability insurance claims of employees who are off work by reviewing reports from their healthcare providers and ensuring that all required forms are complete and filed. They help the employee safely return to work as soon as possible (commonly called Early and Safe Return to Work) by keeping in touch with the worker throughout their recovery and by coordinating the development of the return to work plan in collaboration with the employee, supervisor and healthcare providers. After the employee is back on the job, the human resources professional monitors the progress of the return to work plan, periodically reviews it, and coordinates any necessary changes.
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Return to work coordinator

Return to work coordinators ease the return to work by communicating with employers, insurers and employees during their absence and when they are ready to go back to work. They identify any programs and insurance benefits available to the employee. They hasten the return to work process by answering questions, addressing concerns, and creating a return to work plan that supports the employee. They then track the plan’s progress to make sure it succeeds.
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Occupational health nurse/advisor

Occupational health advisors are often nurses who are hired by employers as staff or consultants. They specialize in workplace health and can help employees with return to work. Occupational health nurses/advisors can help make the arrangements with the employer when the employee is ready to return to work after treatment, and recommend accommodations that will allow them to stay at work. Click here for more info on occupational health nurses/advisors.1Back to the top

Disability management professional

Disability managers work with employers to find alternative work that suits an employee’s functional abilities, as defined by their healthcare team. They also arrange accommodations and assistive devices that follow the recommendations of the employee’s doctors. Disability managers facilitate employees’ return to work by helping their managers remove any barriers in the return to work process. They also improve the administration of disability management by developing policies and procedures and promoting return to work through education and training.
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Union representative

If an employee belongs to a union, a representative can provide them with valuable advice on their plan to return to work. Duties of union officials include working with an employer to find reasonable accommodation solutions for an employee with a disability.
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Rehabilitation team

Rehabilitation team members can play an important role in assessing and addressing challenges in returning to work. They can also aid the planning process for return to work and job maintenance. Rehabilitation specialists may be available within the healthcare system in the community, in house at some workplaces, through extended healthcare plans or privately through insurance providers, employers or individuals.

Occupational therapist

An occupational therapist (often abbreviated OT) assesses how an individual’s physical, cognitive and affective health affects their ability to complete activities. Interventions may include restoration of skills or adjustment of the activity and environment to enable participation in activities. Occupational therapists can assess the job tasks, the patient’s functional abilities, and the work environment to make recommendations such as modifying job tasks or routine, using aids or assistive technology and healthy ergonomics to promote maximum work engagement. Education to manage symptoms, such as fatigue or memory impairment, may also promote a successful return to work.
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Vocational rehabilitation counsellor

Vocational rehabilitation counsellors help people with health conditions or disabilities address their employment concerns. They help cancer survivors get the rehabilitation, medical and psychological services they need to stay productive at work or improve their function so they can return to work. They can assess work skills and abilities, provide career counselling and recommend suitable kinds of work. Vocational rehabilitation counsellors negotiate accommodations with employers and teach people how to search for new jobs if they want to make a change.

See vocational rehabilitation consultant for more information on privately funded vocational rehabilitation specialists.
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Neuropsychologist

A neuropsychologist is a psychologist trained in the assessment, treatment and prevention of behavioural and emotional conditions. Neuropsychologists focus on how injuries or illness of the brain affect cognitive functions, such as attention and memory. They can provide assessments, education, rehabilitation and counselling related to changes in thinking abilities. Referral to a neuropsychologist can be very helpful to those whose work tasks require cognitive abilities. Neuropsychologists can assess cognitive strengths and challenges that might impact work performance and provide guidance on ways to compensate to help maintain or enhance functioning at work.
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Physiotherapist

Physiotherapists (also called PTs, physical therapists or physios) treat people who have been impaired due to injury or illness. They assess people’s ability to move and maximize their quality of life through prevention and rehabilitation. Physiotherapists can help cancer survivors reduce their pain and stiffness, increase their endurance, strength and balance, and regain work ability. Some specialists in work can help survivors safely return to work by assessing the demands of their job, analyzing their work abilities, developing programs to get them ready to return to work, and deciding when they are ready.
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Kinesiologist

Kinesiologists (sometimes abbreviated RKin or kin) are experts at assessing fitness and designing exercise programs. They have a deep understanding of body training and how the body responds to exercise. They help people increase their fitness to maximize their physical abilities and prepare them to return to work. A kinesiologist can design an exercise routine customized to the survivor’s health needs and circumstances.
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Insurance team

Case manager

A case manager works with the other insurance team members to make decisions regarding an employee’s insurance claim and to monitor it. The case manager gathers information on the employee’s ability to work, tracks their rehabilitation progress, refers them to vocational rehabilitation services, and helps calculate benefit payments during a gradual return to work.
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Vocational rehabilitation consultant

The vocational rehabilitation consultant (see also vocational rehabilitation counsellor) can assess an employee’s work functioning, determine employability, make referrals to rehabilitation services, and consult with the employee’s physician and employer to aid their return to work. Vocational rehabilitation consultants are typically employed by insurance providers. They can aid the employer and employee in identifying barriers to working and in developing vocational rehabilitation plans.
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Insurance consultant

The insurance consultant is often the person who sold the insurance policy (typically short- and long-term disability or critical incident insurance) to the employer, union or professional association. These consultants are often familiar with the terms of the insurance contract and can be helpful in interpreting, navigating or advocating for the employee or the employer if the insurance company is not meeting the terms of the contract.
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Medical team

There are many healthcare professionals involved in a cancer patient’s care, such as medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology surgeons, family doctors, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses and psychiatrists. Patients, other healthcare providers, insurance providers and employers seek advice from healthcare providers on the patient’s work abilities as well as their need for medical, rehabilitation and psychological care to improve work ability. Healthcare professionals also provide guidance on cancer symptoms and the effects of its treatment, assess work abilities, and recommend services and strategies to promote returning to and remaining at work.

Family doctor

Family doctors (also called general practitioners or GPs) play a key role in assessing, treating and addressing issues that may affect the cancer survivor’s ability to work. Family doctors know about the survivor’s cancer and its treatments, but are also aware of other health conditions they may have that may contribute or prevent their cancer recovery.
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Medical oncologist

A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in caring for those diagnosed with cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. Some oncologists specialize in one type of cancer, such as breast or lung. Medical oncologists prescribe cancer treatments and medications to treat their side effects. They may also be part of research on experimental cancer drugs. Right now, there is little research on the effects of certain cancer treatments on work abilities. With new treatments constantly being developed, medical oncologists often know the most about the effects of treatments on work ability.
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Radiation oncologist

Radiation oncologists are doctors who specialize in radiation to treat cancer, control the growth of cancer or relieve symptoms such as pain. Radiation oncologists work closely with medical oncologists, surgeons, and other doctors to plan their treatment and manage any side effects that may occur due to radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists know about radiation effects through their clinical experience, and they are the best doctors to advise on how radiation treatment can affect work ability.
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Surgical oncologist

Surgical oncologists (or cancer surgeons) are doctors who have additional training to diagnose, biopsy and surgically treat cancers of all types. They specialize in removing cancerous lesions, tumours and organs, as well as obtaining tissue samples to make a diagnosis. Major surgeries like amputations can significantly affect work ability. The same is true for other surgeries, such as colostomy or ileostomy. Brain or neurological surgery can also affect work ability because this type of surgery can affect physical and mental functioning.

Surgical oncologists are the best doctors to advise on recovery time after surgery and how it may affect work ability. Cancer survivors may go on to have other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. In these cases, the oncologist or family doctor may be better at assessing the cumulative effects of treatment on their ability to work.
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Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with additional training in assessing and treating those with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and psychosis. Psychiatrists can provide therapy, prescribe psychiatric medication and help figure out if psychological reactions are caused by medical problems, such as cancer and its treatment. They can also help determine the effects of psychological challenges on work ability. Neuropsychiatrists specialize in treating people whose psychological problems are caused by neurological changes. Many large cancer centres provide access to psychiatrists and neuropsychiatrists.
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Other helpful professionals and how they can help return to work

Workplace team

Employee assistance counsellor

An employee assistance counsellor is a clinical counsellor, social worker or psychologist who can listen to a patient’s concerns about the workplace and their wellbeing. They can help patients cope with stress, address interpersonal issues and, in some cases, explore career changes. Employment assistance counselling is typically funded through workplace extended healthcare plans. For more information, see the Disability Management and Accommodating Employees with Disabilities by Yukon Health Public Service Commission (PDF; page 13).
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Healthcare team

Physiatrist

Physiatrists are rehabilitation physicians who have completed training to assess and manage long-term or permanent nerve, muscle and bone injuries or deficits (due to surgery, diseases or conditions) that affect how people move. Some have specialized training in cancer since cancer and/or its treatment can impact these components.
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Pain and symptom management/palliative care doctors

Pain and symptom management/palliative care doctors focus on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and the physical and mental stress of a serious illness – whatever the diagnosis, including cancer. These doctors can offer symptom management advice to help patients return to work after cancer treatment or stay at work for as long as possible during treatment. They also provide medical support throughout the course of treatment and beyond for both patients and family/caregivers.
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Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work with cancer patients to answer questions, monitor symptoms and side effects and provide support to patients and their families. Registered nurses may be specially trained to provide chemotherapy treatments and support patients undergoing radiotherapy. Registered nurses are often the first line of communication between the patient and their healthcare team and can help address symptoms of cancer and treatment that might affect patients’ work ability.
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Nurse practitioner

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse with additional training and education in physical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. An NP can complete medical histories, perform physical examinations, order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. NPs work with physicians and other members of the healthcare team to manage symptoms and treatment side effects. Like oncologists, nurse practitioners specializing in oncology have extended knowledge about cancer treatment and side effects and are qualified to provide guidance in symptom management to improve function at work.
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Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a physician with specialized training in the anatomy and function of the eye and vision disorders. Neuro-ophthalmologists have specialized education and training in visual difficulties arising from the invasion of diseases such as cancer into the visual centres of the brain. Ophthalmologists can recommend vision aids (glasses), assess the limits of vision and help coordinate referrals to vision services to improve function, such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind or, in the case of brain injury, to neuro-rehabilitation.
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Otolaryngologist

An otolaryngologist is a physician specialized in the medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the ear, nose and throat, as well as related structures of the head and neck. With cancers specifically affecting these regions, such as head and neck cancers, otolaryngologists can provide advice on adaptive aids for hearing or speech to help patients return to work.
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Pharmacist

A pharmacist can provide guidance on the safe and effective use of medications. Pharmacists offer advice about drug selection, monitoring for side effects, avoiding drug interactions and assessing therapy outcomes. They can show patients how side effects or interaction with medications might impact their ability to function at work.
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Rehabilitation team

Social worker/clinical counsellor

Oncology social workers/counsellors are trained in and have experience supporting cancer patients and their families as they adjust to the many challenges that can occur with cancer. They can help with social, emotional, relationship and practical issues related to self-image, depression, family, work, finances, insurance, disability, distress and anxiety and can identify appropriate supports. Returning to work following cancer is a vulnerable time for many; decision-making can feel ambiguous or uncertain. Social workers/counsellors can help survivors reflect on and clarify their thoughts and gain perspective on their cancer experience. They can also help survivors make decisions about readiness to return to work and can refer patients to services that deal with job loss, finances, disability, mobility issues and other vocational concerns.
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Psychologist

A psychologist is trained to understand the impact of normal and abnormal brain functioning on cognitive, emotional and behavioural functions. A clinical psychologist may provide psychological support to a person who is struggling with a cancer diagnosis and can provide counselling to address psychological issues that could affect functioning at work.
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Speech-language pathologist

Speech-language pathologists (also called SLPs or speech therapists) assess and manage communication and swallowing disorders. They help people communicate better by improving their pronunciation, word-finding, understanding, reading and writing, reasoning, problem-solving, memory and organizational skills. SLPs also help people with swallowing challenges by providing therapy or teaching strategies to allow them to eat safely without risk of choking or developing pneumonia.
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Lymphedema therapist

Many healthcare providers treat lymphedema after cancer, including physical medicine doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and massage therapists. Patients may need to tell their employer about lymphedema, because not all are aware that lymphedema can be a complication of cancer treatment. Lymphedema therapists can recommend wearing a compression sleeve or garment as a precaution. They can also help ameliorate lymphedema symptoms and may provide guidance on lifting capacity, range of motion and specific movements to avoid further pain, negative symptoms, and injury.
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