What Is an RN Patient Care Coordinator and How Do You Become One?
Picture this—you’re sitting in the hospital waiting room with a friend while her mom undergoes surgery. You spend hours distracting her from her worries, asking nurses questions, interpreting their answers and simply being there for your friend. Finally, you get the good news that your friend’s mom is doing well and is in recovery.
Your friend can’t thank you enough for the support you showed her, but you’re still concerned about the other families who passed through the waiting room today who didn’t have anyone to advocate for them in a scary medical setting. If only there were something you could do to help them like you helped your friend.
Luckily there is: becoming a patient care coordinator. You may not have heard of this nursing job title before. These RNs care for their patients by providing advocacy and support as they navigate the medical system to receive the care and treatment they need. Your natural compassion and empathy could make you a prime candidate to help others as a patient care coordinator.
Considering a new career is a big life change, you need to make sure you know what the job is all about before you commit. Read through these common questions and their answers to learn all the details of being an RN patient care coordinator and how to become one.
Patient care coordinators act as the mediator between patients and the medical teams treating them. Their first priority is ensuring that patients get the care they require. To do this, they often help patients understand their treatment options, develop a plan for achieving their health goals and stay on track with taking medications.
Another key aspect of this RN career is making sure patients have access to the medical resources they need. The world of healthcare can be complicated, especially for the elderly or those in underserved communities. That often means referring patients to others who may be able to offer the support they need.
“If I can’t help them personally, I refer them to someone or something that can,” says Barbara Wogh, RN patient advocate at Keeping Your Parents Safe.
The answer to this will depend on the employer and setting, but the simple answer is that patient care coordinators typically go wherever their patients need them.
“I am usually meeting with clients in the field, whether that be their own home, assisted living or a hospital,” Wogh says.
Care coordinators may also spend their time onsite at medical facilities to communicate and collaborate with the rest of a patient’s medical team about their progress as well as plan their next steps for recovery. Many patient care coordinators also act as patient advocates in a larger community role, which may take them to local meetings involving community care and health resources.
Though active engagement with patients and healthcare professionals is a big part of the job, these RNs also see some “downtime” in an office to complete paperwork and keep patients’ medical records up to date.
“Some of my day is spent at my computer researching and creating care plans for clients and online content for the community,” Wogh adds.
Job duties can vary widely depending on what a patient or family needs on any given day. “I’ve done everything from arranging for hospice care and picking up remains of loved ones after cremation, to working with doctors to solve a chronic medical problem, to managing caregivers in the home, including conflict resolution,” Wogh says.
The specific job duties of a care coordinator can vary, but the following list of duties are common among patient care coordinator roles:
- Educating patients and their families
- Creating and implementing a care plan that meets the patient’s needs
- Regularly reviewing the care plan with patients and monitoring their progress
- Maintaining patient medical records
- Communicating and coordinating with other direct care providers
- Researching additional healthcare resources and referring patients who need additional assistance
Not everyone is cut out for a career that requires you to provide so much support to patients. Wogh notes that the ability to compartmentalize difficult medical and emotional situations is critical for patient care coordinators, as is the ability to be objective and do what the patient wants rather than what you think is best.
It’s important to evaluate your own skills and characteristics to decide if becoming an RN patient care coordinator is the right job for you. These are some of the soft skills that will serve you well in this healthcare career, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:*
- Active listening
- Service orientation
- Social perceptiveness
- Critical thinking
- Time management
- Active learning
- Judgment and decision making
- Verbal communication
- Monitoring for progress and corrective action
The best patient care coordinators will need to be organized, personable and capable of balancing the needs of multiple patients as well as their healthcare providers and insurance representatives. It’s no small feat, but there’s something to be said about making a patient’s experience in navigating our complex healthcare system as pleasant as possible.
The answer to this question gets muddied a little bit due to employers not always having a uniform naming convention for this role. You may encounter job postings for “patient care coordinators” that don’t require any higher education, but these jobs are often focused more on clerical and administrative work. That being said, most patient care coordinator positions will require you to be a registered nurse at a minimum, though some facilities may have additional requirements, such as having a certain amount of experience in a specialized nursing unit or in some cases being a licensed social worker.
With so many variables at play, the best first step toward becoming a RN patient care coordinator is to first become a registered nurse by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This will equip you with both the practical knowledge of how to administer treatments and the deeper understanding of nursing practice so you’ll have a better grasp on the “Why?” behind what’s done—a critical element for evaluating patient care plans and addressing their concerns. Once you’ve earned a BSN, you’ll need to become a licensed RN by passing the NCLEX exam.
RN patient care coordinators get to earn a living in a career that truly impacts their patients’ lives—it’s not easy navigating the healthcare system, and if you’re interested in joining their ranks, the first step is to become a registered nurse. It might sound straightforward, but there’s a few steps that may trip you up along the way. Get all the details on what to expect in our article, “How to Become a Registered Nurse: Your Step-by-Step Guide.”
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [career information accessed June 25, 2018] www.bls.gov/oes/.