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Survivors Returning to work / staying at work 7. Contribute to the development of your return to work plan

7. Contribute to the development of your return to work plan

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 7 of 10 in getting ready to return to work:

Ideally, your return to work plan is tailored to your unique needs, be flexible, and include the feedback of all of you involved (you, the employer, and your healthcare provider) and the plan should have everyone’s responsibilities. Typically, return work plans are initatied and developed by employers, insurance providers, cancer survivors and/or physicians and are completed and approved by healthcare providers and ideally, with the input of the cancer survivor. For guidance on how to start building your return to work plan, see the Cancer and Work Return to Work Planner.

For ideas on what to consider and how to negotiate a return to work plan see: How to negotiate work accommodations and Key questions to guide a return to work plan.

The advantage of a graduated return to plan (increasing work hours gradually) is that you can start your work before you are even fully recovered. The graduated return to work phase is expected to give you the chance to build up your work ability on the job over time. A graduated return to work plan has been found the most often and helpful work accommodations for cancer survivors.

When employers consider return to work plans and accommodations for employees, they will usually consider in order:

  1. Can the individual return to the job without accommodations?
  2. Can the individual return to the job with accommodations?
  3. Can the individual return to another job without accommodations?
  4. Can the individual return to another job with accommodations?
  5. Can the individual be retrained for a different job at the workplace? (Note that retraining for a different job is rarely offered.)

Healthcare providers often play a central role in creating a formal return to work plan by:

  • informing a time frame for a return to work. For example, in a gradual return to work plan, how many hours and for how long the graduated plan will be.
  • defining your work restrictions and limitations over time.
  • recommending helpful workplace accommodations.

You and your healthcare provider can explore ideas to adapt your job to your situation, and think of ways to improve your transition back to work and lift your productivity. While the employer is mainly responsible for deciding if accommodations are possible, this is often a negotiated process. For more information see: Reasonable accommodation. To help inform the negotiation, you can help explore and try out accommodations before you return to work that employers might consider. See Workplace accommodations. Typically, employers will be more open to the idea of putting an accommodation in place if it is more likely to result in you being productive.

Ideally, your healthcare provider will give you a note or fill out a form outlining a return to work plan trial, which can be shared with your employer or insurance provider representative who can help you with your return. Calling the return to work plan a “trial” shows that the success of the plan cannot be fully predicted and the plan may need to be revised if needed. In some cases, forms from insurance providers given to healthcare providers may only focus on physical abilities. If there are psychological (mental) and cognitive (thinking) challenges to be addressed, make sure the healthcare provider adds these to the form.

Next step:

Step 8: Prepare for a return to work

Back to the list of return to work preparation steps