Unique Careers For Cancer Registrars

Vol. 18 •Issue 4 • Page 18
Unique Careers For Cancer Registrars

Cancer registrars can work in a variety of settings, not only in a hospital. Here are five unique career paths CTRs can take.

Are you a cancer registrar who’s ready for a change? Do you feel like there’s something bigger out there that you should be doing—traveling, writing a book, changing the world for example? ADVANCE spoke to five women who are doing just about all of that and one of these jobs might just inspire you to take the leap you’ve always dreamed.

Patterns and Puzzles

Do you like puzzles and the feeling when things click? If you’re a self-proclaimed data geek who likes to take the data, analyze and tweak it until you reach that “aha” moment when the data has meaning, you’d make an excellent consultant.

Before she was the executive director of the technology division at CHAMPS Oncology Data Services, Loretta Lausin, CTR, spent 5 years as an oncology data management specialist traveling to multiple facilities helping cancer programs improve the quality of their data and develop studies for cancer care.

Where Lausin really excelled was when she got to analyze data from the registry until it clicked, and suddenly the numbers weren’t numbers anymore but words that meant something to the future of the facility.

“To make that link,” she said, “to make the data as clean as possible and help people turn the data into a good study for researchers to use, was rewarding and exciting.”

Collaborating with other members of the cancer program, Lausin would then present the data to the facility’s cancer committee for project planning or community outreach. “Any time I do something with data that gives a doctor or hospital an idea on how to improve patient care or make somebody’s life better, I’m happy,” she noted.

Today, she is a Commission on Cancer (CoC)-trained independent consultant and enjoys bringing recognition and respect to cancer programs. “I am very passionate about our profession. All of the important information is in the cancer registry, but that can be overlooked,” she said. “We have the awareness campaign to really get the message to administrators that their certified tumor registrars (CTRs) have the advanced skill to analyze data and tell a clearer picture of what’s going on in the cancer program.”

The extensive career flexibility and growth Lausin has experienced at CHAMPS is also something she wouldn’t see herself easily getting in a hospital. When Lausin joined the company 16 years ago, she started as a data processor—she wasn’t a CTR and didn’t have a background in cancer registry—but she was able to move up quickly.

“The challenge as a registrar is to never settle for status quo,” she said. “If you don’t see a career path in your hospital registry, be innovative and find a way to showcase your skills.”


You know that software program you’ve been using day after day—and you know that one thing you wish it did? Well you could be the CTR who helps design it, and you don’t even need a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

According to Karen Phillips, BS, CTR, product manager at IMPAC, there’s nothing routine about her job, in which she helps to create her company’s products. Her days are spent brainstorming, writing requirements for the software and developing training and advertising materials for sales.

Best of all, once the software is created—she gets to break it. “I get to do some of the testing where I try to break it and it’s a lot of fun,” Phillips said. “Anything that can happen to it will—we have 1,000 customers; if somebody drops a book on the computer we don’t want them to lose the case they’re abstracting.”

When Phillips joined IMPAC from the Missouri Central Registry, she didn’t know a thing about software. “I’ve never taken a computer class in my life,” she said. What a CTR like Phillips brings to the software design process is her expert knowledge of exactly what the software needs to do for the CTR–the engineer then writes the codes to tell the software to do it.

Seeing the final product and knowing she helped create something that will help CTRs do their jobs better is the payoff. “It’s like getting a new car; it’s all new and shiny and it smells good,” she said. “You’re very proud of your work.”

What Phillips also loves about her job is that it’s different every day. Right now Phillips is managing the beta testing for a new piece of software, heading to New Jersey next week for a meeting and looking at the 2008-2009 strategic planning goals. “If you like variety, it’s ideal. I like having my hand in so many different things at once,” she said. “CTRs who want this job need to be self-starters who can work well alone and develop their own goals and objectives–registrars are typically very good at this.”

Now, Class!

Shannon Vann, CTR, always dreamt of being an elementary education teacher, but when her elementary school principal father told her the job outlook was dim, Vann chose her college’s HIM program instead. After some years working at the Illinois Central Registry she realized she’d never kick the knack she had for teaching.

Vann followed her passion and proved a CTR who always wanted to be a teacher hasn’t left his or her dream behind. Vann is now the program manager of education and training for the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries Inc. (NAACCR) in charge of developing educational programs and materials for cancer registrars and other cancer surveillance professionals.

She finds out what education to provide, how to provide it and then works to create the material. “I’ve always enjoyed learning new things and forwarding that new information to people. That must be part of your personality.” Vann said. “You also have to become an expert in the subject matter; you have to know it to teach it.”

As an educator, Vann has to keep up with all of the hot topics, and as things change, has learned to come up with creative ways to get the education out. Her most recent project has been creating and coordinating a series of Webinars to save registrars in time and cost of travel.

Vann also presents three to four workshops per year where she enjoys finally getting the chance to teach in person. “I like interacting with people, the give and take of it,” she said. “When somebody gets what you’re teaching them, it’s a great feeling.”

She makes sure to always mix it up to encompass everyone’s unique learning styles, whether audio or visual. “You have to use your PowerPoint, rely on your voice and one-on-one training,” she said. “We always have exercises because it’s really important to ‘do.’ You can talk and show but until they go back and try to do it, they may not get it.”

Building one workshop that suits everyone remains her biggest challenge. “You have some people who have been in the registry for 30 years and some [who’ve been at it] 30 minutes all at the same workshop,” she said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s a good one.”

Seeing the Bigger Picture

While it’s certainly true your hospital’s data is contributing to national statistics, have you ever wanted to be closer to that national impact? Jerri Linn Phillips, MA, CTR, is on the front line of changes that affect CTRs nationally, and is part of the reason your data contributes to exploring national trends in cancer care.

Jerri Linn Phillips is the manager of information, technology and data standards at the National Cancer Data Base, a program of the American College of Surgeons CoC. Working in Chicago, Jerri Linn Phillips not only assures the quality of the data you send, she makes sure it’s available for approved programs, survival reports and other tabulations on the national level.

“We work with the same data,” she said, “but what I like is that we work with a large amount of data collected from all over. We’re able to amass information in ways that can be communicated to clinicians, to provide optimal care based on experiences of the past.”

With a master’s degree in sociology, Jerri Linn Phillips’ background when it was time for a career change to the Wisconsin Cancer Reporting System transferred nicely. “Even in sociology I was a data methodologist,” she said. “What I liked was the link from the data itself to using that data to investigate people’s questions. It’s a combination of knowing what makes the data do its strange things, then knowing how to put it together to test ideas.”

Jerri Linn Phillips also is on the frontline of making decisions that impact every CTR from the United States to Canada as an editor of one of the cancer registry profession’s bibles, the Facility Oncology Registry Data Standards (FORDS).

She makes sure it’s updated to include all of the new cancer treatments. “It puts a fair amount of responsibility on me,” she said. “I don’t want to put something out there that we decide later there was a misinterpretation or we have to correct. Anyone with sharp research skills would like my job.”

Everything Woman

Then there’s the registrar who proves that if there’s something you’re thinking about doing, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing it.

Michele Webb, CTR, is the manager of the tumor registry at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, Laguna Hills, CA. Not to mention, she’s also a consultant, speaker, author, publisher, entrepreneur and Webmaster. If I missed something, you can probably find it on her Web site www.michelewebb.com.

A few years ago, Webb was working full-time at a cancer registry software company and decided to branch out to start her own business–Follow-up Finder Service, to help registries improve their follow-up rates.

That probably wasn’t enough for Webb, and the following year she decided to start a speaking business. So she did. She created a marketing brochure and sent it to as many American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and National Cancer Registrar Association (NCRA) members as she could. “I started at the beginning, alphabetically for every state. Every time I had extra money I was buying rolls of stamps,” she said.

Webb told herself if she got three contracts in the first year she’d be happy. She got 14. “So, that was a busy year,” she said, laughing. She traveled across the country from California and Mississippi up to Ohio, and while some of her speeches were reimbursed financially; others were given back in what she got out of going. “When I come home I may be tired, but I’m mentally and spiritually recharged,” she said. “I can’t get that any other way.”

Now working full time as the manager of a tumor registry, Webb is still doing her service and speaking engagements on the side. Oh, and she’s also the chair for the NCRA Alternative Continuing Education Methods committee, contributing editor for the Journal of Registry Management, and throwing around the idea to create “Workshops to Go” so people can use her presentations without having to fly her in and—well, that’s for another article.

What Webb also proves is that it doesn’t matter where you start out. “When I was in grade school I was painfully shy. If you yelled boo, I would have run the other way,” she said. “Not everyone thinks like an entrepreneur when they’re born; I think you can learn it and practice it. Aspiration does wonderful things for you.”

Ainsley Maloney is an editorial assistant with ADVANCE.

Tips to Advance Your Career

“Find mentors who can help you, even for a little bit. A mentor isn’t a life-long bag you carry around. A mentor is someone who helps you for 5 minutes, 5 years or a lifetime.”

–Michele Webb, CTR

“Show your value constantly, no matter what you’re doing. Keep your eye open for opportunities. If a hospital can see the potential of their registrar you’ll have a lot more opportunity to move up.”

–Loretta Lausin, CTR

“Self educate. I didn’t take college-level courses in education, but when my employer offered it, I took a course. That’s invaluable. Self-education is very important.”

–Shannon Vann, CTR

“Active and extensive participation in state and national association activities—I can’t over-emphasize this. It provides networking opportunities and teaches you things you’d never learn in your job.”

–Karen Phillips, BS, CTR.

“Registry work is requiring highly specialized skills; registrars who entered before the new educational requirements can enhance their experience (not to mention their salaries) by getting that training now.”

–Jerri Linn Phillips, MA, CTR

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