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There are few professions that are more professionally rewarding than that of case manager or administrator. These workers are on the front lines with people in often dire circumstances. Some in the medical field work with clients who are fighting cancer, pursuing complicated and multifaceted rehabilitation, or who are at the very end of their life.
It’s for those reasons that this profession is not necessarily for everyone. Those who are considering it because of the good pay and relative job availability might want to take a moment to self-reflect and determine if this is truly a good fit for them. In fact, this sort of self-reflection should continue throughout one's tenure in the field because, if burnout starts to set in, that can be harmful for clients and colleagues alike.
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What is Case Administration or Management?
Case administration and case management are positions that social workers hold as they seek to help those in need of their care. The types of case and the caseload can vary, and some case managers work exclusively with certain populations. Though, nearly any area of behavioral or medical care employs case managers and case administrators. The job can thus concern individuals and populations that include the mentally ill, elderly, homeless, or even parents who need assistance with their little ones.
The working conditions for a case manager or administrator can likewise vary according to the population they serve. Some may perform home visits, and so they essentially work out of their car and briefcase. Caseworkers also meet their clients in public and discuss their treatment or progress over coffee, in a public park, or elsewhere. Still others work in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or long-term care facility. Medical case administrators who work in a hospital setting often come to the position from nursing or some other allied health profession.
Case managers don't necessarily need to have degrees that apply specifically to their clients' issues. However, a degree is often required to meet certain state requirements and many agencies prefer degrees, especially if they receive payments from their state government. Those who work in behavioral health, for instance, might only check-in with their clients on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure that they are on-track with their treatment plan. These meetings might be to make sure their client is taking their medications on a regular basis and making it to all of their therapy appointments.
While either job title might apply to anyone in social work, the more common term is case manager. On the other hand, some agencies or sub-industries may refer to case managers as those in the field who perform the hands-on assistance. They are then supervised by case administrators. However, every region and sub-specialty has its own naming conventions and standards.
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What is the Difference Between a Case Administrator and Case Manager?
The terms case manager and case administrator can have different meanings depending on the region, and even the agency you're working for. Their meanings are not codified in the way that some other professional terms are. There are no specific licenses that define which terms apply. However, it's good to know how they are used.
Case manager, for instance, usually refers to social workers who call on clients. They assess their care, take notes on their progress, and report their notes to their supervisor. Sometimes, their supervisor is called the case administrator. The case administrator then holds a supervisory position over a team of managers.
However, sometimes case administrators do the primary field work. While it's less likely that their supervisor would be called a manager, each agency is free to assign titles as it sees fit. While this may seem confusing or arbitrary, remember that each sub-industry tends to use its own jargon.
What are the Educational Requirements for Case Managers?
Case administrators and case managers work in a wide range of fields. Some oversee cases of a delicate medical nature while others work with teenage parents who need guidance and oversight. Thus, the position can require degrees that range from an associate degree to a master’s degree. Some case managers might be registered nurses but others might hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
Before you focus on becoming a case manager, first assess what sorts of cases you'd like to manage or which specialty you’d be interested in working in. From that starting point you can determine which academic credentials you'll need. However, you will probably be well served by pursuing a higher education degree in social work, psychology, or even health services. Make sure the degree programs you are selecting are accredited online or traditional programs.
- Social Work: An undergraduate degree in social work is sure to help you become a case manager. This degree will focus your knowledge and skills to best address the personal and bureaucratic needs of the cases you manage.
- Psychology: A degree in psychology will provide you with the fundamental knowledge needed to assess your cases and understand the larger mental health infrastructure. You will also have a terrific foundation for a master's degree in psychology or social work.
- Sociology: While a sociology degree is often more concerned with social research, it can be easily applied to work in social services. This degree is also a great springboard into graduate school. To help round out your coursework, take a few classes in the psychology department, such as abnormal psychology.
- Human Services: A human services degree is another field that can help provide education in and around case management. There are many human services professions that are included under this umbrella, and human service professionals can be found in a wide variety of work environments, from group homes to government agencies.
- Humanities: Degree holders in fields such as political science, philosophy, English, and languages may find work as case managers. Their critical thinking skills can prove invaluable on the job. To help expand your understanding, it may help to take elective courses such as developmental psychology or introduction to criminal justice.
- Master of Social Work: This health care degree might be the most obvious choice. MSW degree holders are able to work as counselors, social work case administrators, and case managers. Your advanced understanding of governmental and other resources will be invaluable to your clients.
- Master of Public Health: This degree will lend you special insights to how health care resources are allocated. You will be aware of their efficacy. While many public health professionals work with larger organizations, you will be well-suited to a one-on-one case management environment. MPH degree holders might also work in a supervisory capacity as case administrators. With the bigger-picture insights from public health, they can lead case managers and guide them towards the sorts of resources that best match their clients' needs.
- Master of Psychology: Whether you focus on clinical or research psychology, your background will be helpful when it comes to working with individuals. Case management can be a second career for psychotherapists who need a break from the intensity of therapy.
- Master of Nursing: This degree will provide deep insights into the healthcare system and is thus invaluable for your clients. Your cases will likely be seeking purely medical treatments but some nurse practitioners work with psychiatric patients who need help managing their medications, therapeutic appointments, and more.
- Master of Criminal Justice: A graduate degree in criminal justice will be ideal if you wish to work with individuals stuck in the criminal justice system. You might work with parolees who are trying to re-integrate with society, or maybe you will handle a caseload of people who are struggling to manage pre-trial matters such as community service, counseling visits, or other recommendations from their attorney.
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Possible Job Roles and Titles in Case Administration
Case administration and case management are fields that span many specialty areas. Though each specialty focus asks that the professional perform similar tasks, each has its own special skill set. To determine which role in the broad worlds of case management best suits you, review your personal skills and professional desires as well as your existing experience and credentials.
- Home Health Case Manager
These professionals work with a homebound patient and their loved ones to devise a workable plan to help the patient achieve maximum health. Often the goal is to help the patient maintain as much independence as possible. Thus, case managers might help them assess their physical surroundings and adjust the home. They might help patients connect with community resources such as public transportation or even helpful neighbors who might assist with certain details. The primary role of a home health case manager is often that of educator, but they also assist, coach, and advocate for their clients.
- Medical Case Manager
This position often requires a bachelor's degree in nursing, but those with an associate's degree are not uncommon. A medical licensure of some sort is often required but there are many medical case managers who operate with a Master of Social Work with a concentration in medical casework. Others might pick up the specialty as a result of experience, if not additional coursework or training. These professionals often work in large hospital systems, and many focus on special areas of the hospital. For instance, some work with cancer patients, but others choose a sub-specialty such as pediatric cancer victims.
- Health Insurance Case Manager
These case managers work for insurance companies and thus have corporate interests at heart first and foremost. These professionals oversee medical claims to make sure that the company doesn't pay out more than is necessary and that all treatments, equipment, etc. is for a legitimate use that falls within the scope of the patient's insurance plan. Insurance case managers also ensure that patients receive proper care. To become a case manager in this field, you'll need extensive medical knowledge of the field. Thus, a background in medical coding, nursing, or some other allied health field will help immensely.
- Social Services Case Manager
These professionals work with a wide variety of clients to help direct them towards the best resources for them. For instance, some may specialize in working with homeless families who they help to find housing, medical resources, and mental health solutions. Others might work with low-income mental health patients who need a professional to help them manage various aspects of their case such as medications, appointments, or conditions of their parole or probation. Ultimately, these case managers seek to match clients with the ideal resources for them.
- Developmentally Disabled Case Manager
These professionals specialize in populations that live with developmental delays or other cognitive deficits that don’t allow them the ability to function as others do. The duties can include helping them manage their emotions while at work, learning new occupational skills, recreational activities, or simple companionship. This position requires great compassion as well as great creativity, organizational skills, and expert documentation abilities. Frequently, these case managers will report to a case administrator who reviews case reports and who may help coordinate various managers and clients for everyone's benefit.
- Early Childhood Case Management
Those who have a background in early childhood education or human development may find this a rewarding career. These case managers often work with the parents of very young children to help them become more effective as parents. Home visits can include educational sessions that concern parent-child interactions, preschool resources, or medical issues. Case administrators might also play with the children as a way to discern the child's medical or developmental needs. The case manager should have a bevy of resources to share.
Certification or Continuing Education?
Certified Case Manager – Medical Focus
This specialized certification comes from the Commission for Case Manager Certification and is mostly held by registered nurses, though social workers and worker's compensation professionals also boast a CCM on their resume. Along the way to becoming certified, professionals learn how to allocate resources to maximize appropriate care, educate clients so that they are able to make their best decisions, and help the clients and/or their loved ones identify exactly what is needed for the patient or client. CCMs are also skilled at helping their clients manage transitions, set their care goals, and understand how to best articulate their needs.
American Case Management Association Certification
ACM certification is a credential available for registered nurses, degreed social workers, or case managers who can verify at least one year, or 2080 hours, of work as a case manager. RNs must have a current, valid state licensure and social workers may forgo a degree if they hold a current state license. That experience must meet the standards of practice and the scope of services as defined by the ACMA.
This certification specifically addresses case management or case administration within the context of health delivery. Specifically, the certification applies to medical healthcare rather than mental health or other issues.
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Not all case managers need a state license, but licensure is certainly valuable when looking for a new job or a certification. Medical case managers may be required to be registered nurses, which implies that a state nursing credential is required. Social workers also can be licensed by the state. Some hold licensure in order to conduct psychotherapy but holding credentials as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker can be immensely beneficial.
Note that ACMA certification requires that applicants hold a license, but their state may not have that requirement, or they may only require licensure for certain case administrators or managers. If you are in school to become a case manager, discuss this with the faculty in your program or investigate your state's regulatory bodies to determine their licensure requirements, if any. In most cases, university curriculum is designed to help students attain any applicable licensure upon graduation.
Salary and Career Outlook
The career path outlook for effective case manager and case administrators is looking very good. This is a field that is growing to meet the needs of a growing population and ever-expanding care options. The current average salary for this sector, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $67,000. The typical degree program needed for entry to the field is a bachelor's degree, and professionals enter the field with less than five years of experience in related jobs. The BLS also projects that the occupational sector will grow by 17% through 2029.
Case Management Core Components and Skills
- Managed patient care
- Patient acute care
- Communication skills
- Medical case management
- Systematic and periodic evaluation
- Patient care coordination
- Managed care facilities management