The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College (UTB/TSC) is offering an online Bachelor's of Applied Arts and Sciences-Interdisciplinary (BAAS-ID) with a specialization in Certified Tumor Registrar beginning in the fall. Presently, this is the only bachelor's degree program offered with a specialization in the cancer registry field.
Cancer registrars are vital contributors to cancer treatment teams, researchers, and health care planners. They collect, manage and disseminate data on the location of the cancer in the body, the type of cancer, the extent or spread of the disease and the treatments provided to the patient. These data are used by health care providers, planners and researchers, and are reported to state and national entities for use in determining cancer incidence and treatment trends.
This program evolved due to the shortage of qualified cancer registry professionals in Texas and throughout the nation. In late 2005, a task force was developed to address the workforce shortage and the delays in reporting cancer data to the state of Texas. The task force, funded by the Texas Cancer Council, included individuals from the Texas Cancer Registry, Texas Tumor Registrars Association, UTB/TSC, The University of Texas School of Public Health at Brownsville and Texas State Technical College.
The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) had already formed a recruitment and retention task force and advisory committee. This task force contracted with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to conduct a workforce study. The results of this study were summarized in 2006 in the NRCA Journal of Registry Management.1 The UCSF study used focus groups, literature review and an online survey to draw conclusions about the cancer registry workforce. They estimated the size of the current workforce to be approximately 7,280 cancer registrars. The average age of the current cancer registrar is 48 years, with many of these individuals expected to retire in the near future. Given the increasing population and the aging of the population, with the resulting increase in cancer diagnoses, UCSF estimated the need for an additional 800 cancer registrars in the next 15 years to meet the workforce demand.
Need to Know
The UCSF study also noted that currently no clear educational pathway to the cancer registry profession exists, and there is no minimal college degree required to sit for the certified tumor registrar (CTR) exam. The knowledge and training required by cancer registrars is increasing, and the number of formal education programs is limited. There are a few programs offering associate's degrees and certificate programs in cancer registry, but until now there wasn't a bachelor's degree program. One of the recommendations of the NCRA task force was the establishment of a college degree requirement for entry into the profession.
NCRA responded with new requirements for taking the CTR exam. The CTR exam scheduled for September 2007 is the last opportunity to sit for the exam with no formal educational background. There is a phase-in of the new educational requirement during 2008-2009, requiring courses in anatomy and physiology, medical science/biology and medical terminology. This culminates with the minimum requirement of an associate's degree in 2010.2
In Texas, the task force also noted issues with both timeliness and accuracy of reported cancer data. The Texas Cancer Registry reported that approximately 750 institutions (general hospitals and cancer treatment centers) submit cancer data as prescribed by state legislation. Of these 750 facilities, only 53 percent had their cancer data reported by a CTR. The task force concluded that the lack of a formal education track to the cancer registry profession and the shortage of trained and certified staff impacted the ability of the Texas institutions to report their data with the required accuracy and timeliness.
These findings resulted in the development of a new specialization in CTR at UTB/TSC. Students with a 2-year technical degree, such as the HIT degree (other degrees may also fulfill the required prerequisites) may apply to this bachelor's degree program. This inverted degree program allows the transfer of qualifying credits from the 2-year degree to the BAAS-ID at UTB/TSC. The BAAS-ID adviser will develop an individualized degree plan for each student, including the courses specific to cancer registry.
The online program offers people anywhere in the world the opportunity to complete this degree. Prospective students must contact the BAAS-ID adviser for details on how to apply to the program and register for online general education courses. In addition to providing a bachelor's degree, the coursework follows NCRA guidelines and provides preparation for the CTR exam.
This new program provides an excellent opportunity for individuals to turn an associate's degree into a bachelor's degree. This additional education will open many doors, such as starting a new career in the cancer registry field, moving into a managerial or supervisory area and providing the prerequisites for entry into a master's degree program. Students completing the BAAS-ID with specialization in CTR will qualify for employment in hospital cancer programs, cancer treatment centers, oncology physician group practices, state and federal cancer registries, military and VA hospitals, companies providing cancer registry software, contract cancer registry service providers and pharmaceutical companies.
1. Mulvihill L, Chapman S, Lindler V. Journal of Registry Management. 2006. Vol. 33, No. 3.
2. Retrieved from CTR exam Web site, www.ctrexam.org/, June 2007.
Barbara Denton is a faculty associate, BAAS, UTB/TSC. For additional information on this new program, please contact her at 956-543-8261 or Barbara.Denton@utb.edu. To speak to an adviser, please contact Michelle Solis, MEd, at Michelle.Solis@utb.edu.