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Stories From Our Consultants: Cancer Registrars

We asked our consultants to tell us how they ended up in the Cancer Registry Field and how they landed their first jobs as Cancer Registrars. Here is what they had to say.

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Sara M.

My father is the reason I am a CTR. I was working in an infusion center throughout his cancer diagnosis of stage 4 NHL. It was tough to go to work each day and see the sadness of patients as I was going through the same journey with my father. He fought and loved life for 18 months and sadly he did not survive. He passed away at the young age of 48.

He was placed in hospice in March of 2012 and my younger sister was to marry that June. His only wish was to walk her down the aisle because we were told he wasn't going to live much longer. My mom planned her wedding in one day from his discharge to hospice. Many loved ones showed up to say goodbye and to watch him give her away. Her wedding day was meant to be in March, and it was a beautiful bittersweet day.

After the wedding, he held on for 6 more months as my other sister was pregnant and his next goal was to hold that baby. He never got that chance, but now he is her angel. After he passed, work became even harder for me and I was looking for a new job. That’s when there was a position for a tumor registrar that fell into my lap and I've been there ever since. I know that my dad would be proud of me for the work I do. I miss him dearly, but his journey has helped me find my passion as a CTR.

Autumn D. B.

I was working in an oncology clinic doing medical coding and billing. The organization had let their CoC accreditation lapse, but had decided to pursue it again. They only had one CTR on staff doing minimal work so they needed to increase their staff. They posted the job for 6 months with no success. I didn't like doing Medical Billing, it was boring to me. Prior to that, I was a CNA / front office unit secretary in the oncology clinic. My coworker encouraged me to inquire and apply for the position. Long story short, they were willing to take me on to learn on the job and give me two years to get my certification, which I did get in 2008. I haven't looked back since.

Debbie H. L.

I am an RN who was going back to work after babies, didn't want to work as a nurse, so I saw an ad for Tumor Registry (this was 1987) and nursing education was a listed background experience. I knew from the beginning that it was perfect for me.

Allison B.

In 2001, after the birth of my second child, I saw a part-time position at the local hospital for a Tumor Registrar. I had never heard of this job title, but did some research and thought it sounded interesting, so I applied. I was interviewed and selected for the position. I was a Medical Assistant, so I had taken Medical Terminology, Anatomy and other health-related classes, but there was so much to learn. Thankfully, the vendor of the database trained me and then the educator from the Central Cancer Registry helped train me too.

I remember being so intrigued when I attended my first Tumor Board. I told my family I had finally found my career! I continued to work as a part-time registrar, but on my days off I studied every manual associated with Cancer Registry. I went to every free state training, but I feared taking my CTR exam.

When I attended the State Central Cancer Registry training, I was in awe of the ladies and gentlemen with "CTR" behind their name. I wanted to take the exam, but I felt I would fail. It was my late mother who encouraged me to take the exam. In September 2007, almost 6 years later, I decided to take the exam and I passed the first time. I was so excited that I would be able to sign my name with the three letters behind it! When I attended the next state sponsored Education Conference, I proudly displayed my name tag: Allison B., CTR.

Nicole R.

I was working as a unit secretary on a med/surg floor and the Clinical Leader for Oncology had her office in our nurses' station. She could tell I was overqualified and miserable and asked if I would be interested in the Tumor Registry. My sister died from brain cancer when I was in high school, so I was interested in the subject and thought it had to be better than what I was doing. I was very right!

Nancy N.

I was the medical record office manager in our hospital's new cancer center. Within 2 years I was asked by the VP if I was interested in filling an opening in the registry. It would include training at the UCSF epidemiology program (that no longer exists, I'm sorry to say). I couldn't pass up free (to me) education! So I joined the one other CTR who prepped me so well I aced the program at UCSF and passed the CTR exam that same year. That was 21 years ago!

Taryn T.

I did my undergrad internship at a cancer rehab clinic on campus at University of Northern Colorado in 2012-2013. Interning there changed my life. I met so many courageous people fighting an extremely terrifying, exhausting, and painful disease.

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to be in the cancer field. Then my grandfather, who I was extremely close to, was diagnosed with glioblastoma and passed away within 3 months. After that rough time I started job searching and found an opening in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a CTR. I did my research on what that was and signed up for classes through AHIMA that very day. I finished the whole program within 1 1/2 years and passed my CTR exam after only 4 months of experience. Now I work for the State of Wyoming and I absolutely LOVE my job!

Michele W.

I had to transition out of being a clinical trials coordinator due to a medical condition that prevented me from doing blood draws. So, I was out of work. Immediately, I was told of a registry manager position and I resisted for 4 months. I finally decided to go for it since bills needed to be paid. So, my first job in Cancer Registry was as a manager of 6 staff. The rest is history.

Jessica H.

I was in school for my AS HIM degree at Greenville Tech and one of my instructors, Karen M., was also the cancer registry coordinator at a local hospital. She piqued my interest of the cancer registry field, and helped to place me in my clinicals at another local CoC accredited cancer registry. From there, I was offered a full time position in 2008, and earned my CTR in 2009. Now I work remotely from home for a consulting company. I absolutely LOVE my career. :)

Nann J.

I started out in Radiology Transcription after college. I had book smarts but no practical application for it. I had trained in billing and it was not for me! I started typing the Radiation Oncology notes and was hooked. I wanted to help patients, but I am a behind the scenes person all the way. So I started looking for a career change. The single Registrar was leaving from my small town hospital and I applied. They told me in my interview that it was like being a detective and to have a questioning attitude. So I got two half days training before I started full time. (That was all we needed, right?!) It has been an adventure, but I absolutely love it!

Jenny K. S.

I was an aid to special needs children. At the same time, I was dating a wonderful man who was diagnosed with AML and passed away at 44. I felt a need to change my focus in my work, so I started searching for jobs at my local hospital. They were advertising a CTR and I read the description. I had some of the qualifications: I had a BA, but I had no idea what a CTR certification was. So as anyone would, I googled CTR and found the NCRA site. I started reading and said to myself, “Well, I can do that.”

I enrolled in the local community college for some courses, and decided to get my AAS degree in Cancer Information Management from Davidson County Community College. During my studies I applied for a job at the hospital doing patient registration. I got that job, and 6 months later, the hospital advertised for a CTR again! By this time I was in my first full time semester at DCCC. I got the job and passed my CTR exam a year later! I was motivated by my friend's death. I felt I needed to make a difference in cancer, cancer research, and cancer treatment, so doing this job is my way!

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Veronica B. S.

I was a 19 year old single mom on welfare and food stamps. I was given a chance to volunteer my time to learn a skill in a community program for disadvantaged young adults. They asked what skills I wanted to learn. I answered, "Something to do with computers." They happened to put me in the registry of a military hospital in San Antonio at Brooke Army Medical Center.

I volunteered 5 days a week instead of the required 3. I volunteered 8 hours a day instead of the required 5. I rode the bus and "borrowed" work clothes from my aunt. The registry staff and my supervisor (Wanda N.) were amazing mentors.

When I left after my three month training period ended, they called me back for a full-time contract job. I was the only person who landed a job. I was certified in 2 years and 26 years later, I am a consult after being a supervisor, manager, college instructor, and director.

Ethel S. M.

I was a widow at age 32 with 3 children. I volunteered in a hospital for three years and then I got hired to work in medical records. I did that for 14 years. One day, I went up to the cancer registry at lunchtime and saw what it was like. So I enrolled in a few college classes and took the test for tumor registry. I failed it 3 times but never gave up. On the 4th time, I passed! I loved my job until I retired.

Judy T. B.

I was working in Richmond, Virginia in the state Childhood Lead Poisoning Program. I had just married a guy from Wyoming and we wanted to move there. So I applied for a job in the cancer registry as their epidemiologist. I got that job and after a year became the manager of the central registry. Advance 4 years and I applied for a cancer registrar job in Alaska. One year after moving there I became a CTR.

Ellen C. H.

I was working as a floor nurse and they were going to go to 12-hour shifts. I liked my 10-hour shift, so I started looking for a new job within the hospital. I saw the Cancer Registry opportunity and that it had no weekends or holidays, so I applied and I got the job. I’ve been in the field ever since.

Stacie M. D.

I had been working the front desk in oncology and being a tech for the physicians. I had also been helping nurses in the clinic. Then our CTR decided to take another job and asked if I wanted to learn. I ended up in the registry for 3 years and then sat for my CTR. I was there another 5 years. I started doing every aspect, including annual repeat, cancer committee, and CoC standards. After 9 years of that, I was offered a dream job working at home full-time as a CTR. I always try to educate people in our field to tell them that maybe they could be just as happy as I was with my career choice.

Chris S.

I started my career in Health Information Management. After spending 31 years in that field, I realized I needed a change. I also needed a job at the time. So, I applied to be a Tumor Registrar at a hospital where I had previously worked in HIM. I had very little experience in TR, but the Director felt I had enough knowledge from HIM that I would be very well suited for this job. I am still here after 15 years and I still love the work and fellowship I have gained over the years.

Mary B. S.

I was a radiation therapist for 35 years and was ready for a change. I went to Scott Community College online and did my practicum hours at the hospital I was already employed at. I was offered a job and love my new career! :)

Denise L.

I had been a nurse since 1984 and after spending some time in the chemo infusion room and oncology clinic, there was a position open in quality assurance with a part-time cancer registry. I applied and got the job! I loved collecting the treatment records and data entry. This led to a full-time remote position with my current employer. I got my CTR in 2014 and am now the supervisor of our Registry.

Charlotte T.

I came from a background of being a 4-H mom, raising cattle and kids. I also worked in a factory for 15 years, and it closed. I knew more of the anatomy of a cow and pig than the human body! When the factory closed, I got the opportunity to go to college and get a degree in Health Information Technology. During that time, I was able to intern in the local hospital and found the Cancer Registry.

Our small town did not have openings, so I moved my family 1400 miles to New Mexico. There I joined the Central Registry and learned this field! I passed the test and won a scholarship from a special group of folks, MedPartners, to attend my first National Conference. After that, I moved to Colorado, am still a member of NMTR, member and Vice President of the Colorado Cancer Registrars Association, and Membership Chair for NCRA. I do work full-time at one hospital, and then have a remote job to keep me hopping! Love this work!

Marilynn L. S.

I was a Nuclear Medicine Technologist and after passing out during procedures (and barfing), I realized I needed to use my skills in a different way - away from direct patient care. I attended an 11-week program at USC-CSP that provided classes and on-the-job training that led me to take my CTR exam. That was 29 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. I am very grateful for the person who picked me up off the ground, looked in the classifieds to find the CTR Training program at USC-CSP, and typed my resume for me. What a doll. I could kiss her toes!

Barbara J. E.

I was a medical secretary in a pathology department in New York when my boss decided the hospital needed a cancer registry and offered me the position. I knew nothing about it, but because it offered a nice increase in salary, I said yes. That was way back in the '60s when there were no formal classes, no certifications, and I learned the hard way. I visited other hospitals with registries, sat with their registrars, brought back samples of their abstract forms, follow-up cards, etc., and took it from there. Thanks to Dr. CMK, I had a very long career in the field.

LeeAnn O.

In 1995 I was working as a hospital coder with two other coders. A radiation oncologist was going to open a Radiation Therapy Department in the new office building next door on the condition that the hospital would develop an Approved Cancer Program. After doing some research on what that entailed, the other coders were not interested in starting the Cancer Registry. I said, "Sure, I'll give it a try." More than 20 years later, I can still say it was the best career decision I ever made!

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