How to Become a Case Manager in 5 Steps

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in case management. Read on to learn more about career options along with education and licensure information. Schools offering Addictions & Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Case Manager Do?

As a case manager, you'd be responsible for coordinating medical care or human services that can improve the well-being of your clients. You would work with a wide range of people, from elderly patients to recovering addicts and people with mental illnesses. You will conduct audits on medical records and interview medical professionals in the event of an error, omission of records or questionable claim. In some cases, you may even recommend services that would benefit your client. Continue reading the chart below to learn more about career options in this field of work.

Registered Nurse Healthcare Social Worker
Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's degree required by some employers Master's degree
Key Responsibilities Deliver case management, instruct patients on how to take care of injuries and illnesses, monitor patients and document observations Deliver case management, deliver counseling and patient education, create referrals for additional services
Licensure Required Licensure is required Licensure or certification is required; varies by state
Job Growth (2012-2022) 16%* 19%*
Median Salary (2015) $65,950* $52,380*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Case Manager?

Hospitals and human services agencies employ case managers to ensure that clients' needs are being met. A case manager may come from various backgrounds, such as mental health, nursing, social work or vocational rehabilitation. To work as a case manager in a healthcare facility, such as a hospital, you may consider becoming either a nurse case manager or social work case manager. Both types of case managers follow similar a similar standards of care model, which involve assessing clients' needs, as well as planning, implementing and evaluating services.

Step 1: Choose a Career Path

Nurse case managers and social work case managers in a healthcare setting are usually part of a case management team. Depending on your employer, roles may overlap in some aspects; however, the two positions generally have different focuses. Your goals as a nurse case manager include enhancing the quality of healthcare for patients, finding cost-effective solutions for medical procedures and reducing duplication of medical treatments. If you're more interested in providing counseling and other support services, you may prefer a career as a social work case manager. In this role, you focus more on addressing clients' psychosocial needs.

Step 2: Complete an Accredited Degree Program

Though the case-management model is similar for both professions, career preparation differs. Nurse case managers need clinical expertise and knowledge of financial and regulatory components of the healthcare system. Requirements for nurse case manager preparation vary nationwide, but employers typically prefer to hire registered nurses, most commonly with either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). To learn the complexities and responsibilities of nurse case management, you can complete a certificate program or even an MSN with an emphasis in case management.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), to qualify as a social work case manager, you need to complete either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or Master of Social Work (MSW) program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (www.socialworkers.org).The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that social workers in medical settings are often required to earn an MSW (www.bls.gov).

Step 3: Work as an Intern

Acquiring hands-on experience can lead to a case-management job. As a nursing student, you may have opportunities to perform clinical rotations that allow you to engage in case management. Exploring case management internships independently is an option for both nurse and social work case managers. Internships are typically integral parts of social work programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Several opportunities are available to do your social work internship hours in your selected area of specialization, such as mental health case management.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

Both nursing and social work are state-regulated professions. Most nurse case managers are registered nurses (RN), which requires a license. To obtain your RN license, you're required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Since social work certification or licensure requirements vary by state, it's important to consult your state licensing board. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) provides a list of state licensing boards on its website (www.aswb.org).

Step 5: Consider Certification

Several professional certifications are available in nursing and social work case management that can distinguish you in your field and lead to better employment prospects. For nursing or social work case management performed in a hospital setting, you may obtain the Accredited Case Manager (ACM) credential offered by the American Case Management Association (www.acma.web.org) or become a Certified Case Manager (CCM) through the Commission for Case Manager Certification (www.ccmcertification.org). Credentials specific to nursing or social case management are also available, including the Registered Nurse - Board Certified (RN-BC) credential offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (www.nursecredentialing.org) and the Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM) and the Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager (C-ASWCM) credentials offered by the NASW Credentialing Center.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Since case managers work with a number of different medical professionals, there are many related careers. Those who start out as a registered nurses may also pursue careers as addiction nurses, neonatology nurses and rehabilitation nurses, to name a few. Addiction nurses specialize in the care of recovering addicts, while neonatology nurses specialize in the care of newborns and rehabilitation nurses help people recovering from debilitating illness or injury.

On the social work side, individuals can specialize as child and family social workers, who work to protect children and help families find housing services. They might also become clinical social workers, who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses. As a third option, school social workers work with schools and parents to help children succeed in school. Clinical social workers need a master's degree, while the other specializations require a bachelor's at minimum.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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