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When Looking for Healthcare IT Talent, How Creative Are You Willing To Be?

August 14, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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Late last month, in a (very eloquent) letter sent to state legislators, Vera Rulon, President of the AHIMA, focused on a critical piece to the healthcare reform puzzle that seems to have fallen under the table as our industry’s thought leaders spend countless hours tied up in committee meetings, work sessions, and panel discussions, trying to nail down who needs to do what, when they need to do it by, and by the way, what’s meaningful? I’m not suggesting that this was/is not important foundation-laying work that needs to be done; obviously it is, but Ms. Rulon’s letter points out a very basic critical need that, in my opinion, is equally as meaningful. Here are some excerpts:

Even as the White House and Congress grind toward passage of the reform legislation that promises to summon the dawn of electronic health information as the standard for reimbursement, research, public health, quality assurance, privacy, security, expanded coverage and controlled costs, there are not enough properly-trained and educated Americans to fill the employment demands this new age will create.


For this reason, the American Health Information Management Association is asking you to lead the passage of workforce legislation in your state that adds accredited health information management and health informatics bachelor’s degree programs to the lineup of science majors already offered by your state-funded colleges and universities.


A very conservative estimate is that we will need at least 75,000 more health information management professionals over the next four years. That number multiplies greatly once you include the more technical professions (health information technologists) and extrapolate through end of the next decade (2019).


This is an urgent matter. Consider that it takes four years to generate an HIM or HIT bachelor degreed graduating class. Even if every state college began offering accredited HIM programs this fall, it would be 2014 before we began to see real increases.

She’s right. This is an urgent matter. Even more urgent than her letter suggests, though, because, let’s be honest, as exciting as it is to think about a nationwide swell of HIM/HIT undergraduate programs, what’s a newly minted undergraduate degree going to allow Generation Y to really contribute right out of school? Project management tackled on a big happy classroom whiteboard with multicolored markers by teams who just completed “leadership training” at last week’s ropes course retreat is a lot different than real life. Throw in an insufficient budget, unrealistic deadlines, a few Board member egos, vendor complications, personnel headaches, a mortgage payment and a couple kids’ college tuitions, and NOW you’re talkin’!

So, in addition to doing what we need to do to support accredited health information management and informatics bachelor’s degree programs to develop the Healthcare IT workforce of tomorrow, where else can we turn to find the professional, experienced, specialized workforce that will be needed today in order to step into the roles of Ms. Rulan’s conservative estimate? It’s certainly time to be creative! A recent article in ExecuNet’s CareerSmart Advisor, “Creating a Healthy Future in Healthcare,suggests that a new career in healthcare may only require a shift in industry, not in job function. Additionally, several advanced degree options are emerging, with the busy schedule of a currently employed professional guiding their format, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Online Master of Science in Health Informatics program, for example. All good initiatives, and all steps in the right direction, but will they be enough? That remains to be seen. Just how creative are you?

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