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Healthcare providers Returning to work/staying at work Helping patients prepare for returning to work

Helping patients prepare for returning to work

There are several ways that healthcare providers can assist in planning a cancer survivor’s return to work. Some of these steps may come before others, but they do not always occur in the same order. You may want to begin by attempting to anticipate and understand the cancer survivor’s work abilities, so that you can help determine the survivor’s ability to work given the effects of cancer and treatment. Next, you may want to help decide the best course for maximizing their work ability. This could mean waiting for sufficient recovery before returning to work or having them complete rehabilitation to increase function and mobility.

Research has found that a survivor’s uncertain emotional state, a strong desire to return to normal, or financial need may all affect their decision about work readiness. In addition, many survivors report that they frequently receive inconsistent advice about the best time to return to work. As a result, survivors often return to work before they are ready.

Once you and your patient have a sense of their current abilities, you may want to assess the challenges they may encounter upon returning to work and determine how these will be addressed. You will need to identify supports the patient will require at home and at work to help them perform at their highest, safest and most productive level. If you are unsure about your patient’s potential work success, it may be beneficial to refer them to other professionals for further functional assessments. Once these steps have been completed, a formal return to work plan can be developed in collaboration with the survivor and the employer or the following representatives from their workplace (if available):


For more information on Determining Work Readiness Following Cancer, see the following webinar by Mary Stergiou-Kita, PhD, assistant professor in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy, University of Toronto.

The webinar presents avenues on determining work readiness and how cancer survivors can work with their healthcare service providers to determine work readiness.

Additional resource by Mary Stergiou-Kita, Cheryl Pritlove, D. Linn Holness, Bonnie Kirsch, Dwayne van Eerd, Andrea Duncan, and Jennifer Jones (2016). Am I ready to return to work? Assisting cancer survivors to determine work readiness. J Cancer Surviv [online]. DOI 10.1007/s11764-016-0516-9