Collaboration is Key When it Comes to HIT Workforce Development

One thing that I love about this industry is its willingness to collaborate, and I’m not just talking about collaborative care. I’m talking about healthcare IT’s propensity to brainstorm new ideas as the drop of a hat. Put two HIT folks – be they physician, vendor or blogger – in a room, and 20 minutes later you’re going to have a new idea related to care delivery, product development or possible partnership on your hands. It gets even more prolific when editorially minded marketing folks like me are added to the mix.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how even blogs can foster this sort of collaboration. Last month in “Finding an EMR Job Champion,” I chatted with Rich Wicker, HIMS Director at Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, about how this industry can best align recent graduates of HIT certification programs with training and jobs. Some of you may have noticed several comments left on that post by Sean McPhillips, a man of many hats. He is currently an adjunct instructor at Cincinnati State – a community college in the HITECH College Consortia; project manager at the Kentucky Regional Extension Center; and creator of the, a free resource to help students enter the HIT work environment.

In his comments, he advocates for a mentor-protégé program: “Students still need some more help finding jobs. What I think needs to happen is a “Mentor/Protégé” model. That is, pairing students with industry professionals who can mentor them into the industry. I’ve passively done that…to success. I think that will work.” He later followed up with the news that he hopes to work with HIMSS, which is developing a similar program, to get this model off the ground.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with McPhillips a bit more about his idea. I was eager to find out just how he plans to jumpstart it:

It seems as if you’ve been kicking this idea around for a while. How did it come about?
Being with the extension center, I’ve mentored a handful of people along the way, and I think there needs to be a more structured process so that students coming out of these [HITECH College Consortia] programs who want to be mentored have a place to go, they know how to get and stay engaged in the process. I think that there is with HIMSS, but I don’t think it’s really been tightly coupled with the workforce development program.

When I spoke with Helen Figge, Senior Director of Career Services at HIMSS, she was really excited to talk with me, and pointed me to HIMSS’ career development page to look around and see what they have out there. I’m thinking of how we can connect [what they’re already doing] into the workforce development program within the overall HITECH project structure, so that we can connect students who come out of these programs with their local HIMSS chapter, which could then pair them up with a mentor that’s in their region. That’s what’s really missing. That’s what’s really necessary to get people plugged into this profession – especially if they’re coming from outside of this profession.

HIMSS does not already have some sort of relationship with the college consortia?
They kind of do, but I don’t think it’s really tightly coupled. I think HIMSS recognizes this, so they’ve been developing their career development program. They’re near completion of a new, entry-level certification called the CSHIMS certification. That is something where you don’t need to have a whole lot of experience in health information technology, but you need to demonstrate some degree of knowledge in subject matter to obtain that certification. That might be a good way to help these students take the next step into the profession, when they’re looking to get a job. That could be part of the whole mentorship program concept.

Isn’t there a double-edged sword to it financially? Wouldn’t students have to become paying members of HIMSS, and then would they have to pay for certification? If they’re looking for jobs, finances might be tighter than usual.
That’s a great point. The question is, what are the costs associated with certification and becoming a member. There is a student membership discount. There’s a cost to certification, obviously, so these are things that are to be considered. That has not escaped me, so that’s going to be part of my brainstorming session. I’m going to meet up with them in Vegas when I go out to HIMSS.

One of the things I want to be able to do is make this attractive for people, particularly students, and if they have to lay out $500 or $1,000, and they’re already unemployed or they’re financially strapped, it becomes not just a double-edged sword, it becomes a disincentive.

I wonder if the vendors couldn’t get involved and offer scholarships.
It’s funny that you mention scholarships because that might be something the local HIMSS chapters can do. I know the Ohio HIMSS chapter used to do a $1,000 scholarship every year for students. So this might be something that the boards or the individual chapters could subsidize.

If you’re in the HITECH workforce development program, maybe HIMSS would be willing to waive membership for one year. That might be something they may be interested in doing.

This is part of the whole brainstorming session that I’m going to try to have over the next month or so. I’ll vet this through HIMSS over the next couple of weeks and hopefully we’ll come up with a good strategy by the end of February. And then we’ll start piloting it in the March timeframe.

I hope to run into McPhillips in Vegas to see how his chat with the HIMSS career development folks is coming along. It’s nice to know that one industry insider’s idea, and subsequent blog comments, might actually create job opportunity in the industry.