McGill
BC Cancer Agency
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Changing jobs and looking for work

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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Dr. Margaret Oldfield, M.E.Des., PhD

Dr. Margaret Oldfield is a social scientist and the postdoctoral scholar on the Cancerandwork.ca project. Her pre-doctoral career encompassed the fields of social policy, education, employment, disability rights, women’s issues, and community health. She received a PhD in Rehabilitation Science from University of Toronto in 2015 and a Certificate of Advanced Training in Qualitative Health Research Methodology. Her dissertation explored how women with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness, stayed at work. Dr. Oldfield’s research interests include workplace disclosure, discrimination against employees with chronic illnesses, factors other than illness that push these employees out of the workforce, and alternatives to workplace accommodations that do not require disclosing difference. She also is a writer, an academic editor at Ryerson University, and a collaborator with the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy.

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There is no question that having cancer changes how survivors view their lives. This often includes thinking through how they work, if they want to work at the same job or in the same career, even if they want to work at all.

It can be difficult to change jobs for several reasons:

  • It might take too long to reach the individual’s current pay level in a new job.
  • Retraining for a different job might take a lot of time and money.
  • Many cancer survivors are older workers and may not want to invest in extensive retraining.
  • They might lose employee benefits and human rights support if they leave their previous workplace.
  • Proving yourself in a new job may take too much effort.

Survivors might want to return to their former jobs gradually while they:

  • consider and shift to parts of the job are more rewarding
  • explore other careers in their current workplace
  • explore jobs at other workplaces
  • take courses to prepare for a career change

Some cancer survivors may be certain they want to change jobs or it may not be possible to return to a previous job because, when the survivor is ready to return, the job has changed or disappeared.

For some, cancer or side effects of treatment may make it difficult to do the previous job, or any job, without learning new skills or getting more education. Survivors who were not working when diagnosed with cancer may need to look for work or undergo training to prepare for a job search. Other survivors may consider retiring.

Healthcare providers play an integral role in helping survivors who feel reluctant to return to their former job or want to find a new job. Ways to help include:

  • assessing and addressing any medical, psychological, social or functional barriers to work
  • counselling survivors who are working through reluctance or barriers to work
  • providing or referring survivors to vocational rehabilitation counselling
  • arranging work capacity assessments to inform survivors’ career choices
  • referring survivors to employment resources, such as job search, career planning services and job placement

This section offers ideas and resources to help the patients change jobs at the workplace, explore a new career, or things to consider if they want to retire.