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10. Monitor the work situation

Ms. Maureen Parkinson, Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor, M.Ed. C.C.R.C, BC Cancer

Ms. Maureen Parkinson is the province-wide vocational rehabilitation counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency. She has also been vocational rehabilitation counsellor at a public rehabilitation hospital and vocational rehabilitation consultant to insurance companies and the court system. She has instructed and facilitated Service-Canada-funded programs on job searching and career exploration. Ms. Parkinson has a Masters in Counselling Psychology, is a Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counsellor, and completed the Certified Return to Work Coordinator Program through the National Institute for Disability Management and Research. She has developed return-to-work and job-search seminars for cancer patients and created the guidebook “Cancer and Returning to Work: A Practical Guide for Cancer Patients” as well as on-line articles about returning to work and school. She also co-authored a paper commissioned by the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, “Cancer and Work: A Canadian Perspective”.

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Dr. Christine Maheu, RN, PhD

Dr. Christine Maheu is an Associate Professor in the Ingram School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. Dr. Maheu is also an Affiliate Scientist at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto. At McGill University, she teaches research methods, supervises graduate students (masters, doctoral, post-doctoral), mentors practicing nurses and students in research, and conducts research in English and French. She has held research awards with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. These awards funded her research in psychosocial oncology, which focuses on developing and testing psychosocial interventions or measurements tools for various cancer populations. Additionally, in partnership with Ipsos Canada and funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, she is co-leading a nationwide survey of the needs of cancer patients for transition care from the end of their treatment to three years after their diagnosis. Dr. Maheu received awards for excellence in nursing research (2013, 2015, 2016) from Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology, and the Quebec Association of Nurses in Oncology.

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Step 10 of 10 in getting ready to return to work:

Return to work for a cancer survivor is a very individual process and potential challenges may not be easily predicted. The key to maintaining work once back is to incorporate continued monitoring in the return to work plan. Increasingly, research shows that cancer patients may struggle with staying at work once they resume full work hours. Once back at work, the survivor may struggle more than either of you had expected. Continued monitoring of the survivor’s challenges well after they have completed a gradual return to work is recommended. Returning to work is a process, and the plan may need to change along the way to help your patient stay at work safely and successfully.

During the implementation of the return to work plan:

  • Discuss how your patient is coping with job demands.
  • Review the next steps detailed in the return to work plan.
  • Make sure your patient is progressing as expected.
  • If the plan needs to be revised, write a medical note for the employer and insurance provider (if the cancer survivor is receiving insurance benefits) indicating the recommended changes for the plan.

If your patient’s challenges are difficult to resolve, this may be the time to refer them to a vocational or rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, disability manager, return to work coordinator, or to another health professional, if this has not been done. You may also want to recommend that employers or insurance providers fund this support if it is not available within the healthcare system. Getting expert advice on the cancer survivor’s situation not only helps them stay at work, but it may support their employer.

It can be helpful to encourage cancer survivors to schedule regular meetings with their supervisor. These regular meetings will help address any issues and concerns right away. Also, strategies can be reviewed, such as job accommodations that would enable the employee to keep working.

Encourage the survivor to use these meetings to remind their manager about any upcoming medical appointments, especially if they are in treatment. If any limitations and restrictions have changed, this is also the time to give the employer updated medical information.

If your cancer survivor tells you they are struggling at work and need a change in their return to work plan, it is important to keep their employer representative (supervisor, human resources professional, disability manager, return to work coordinator, occupational health professional) up to date.

Back to the list of return to work preparation steps