Three Steps to a Career in Healthcare IT

by Leslie Stevens-Huffman

At one time, a dose of federal funding seemed like the perfect antidote for the country’s ailing health information management infrastructure and a way to create a host of new IT jobs. But as of a few months ago, hopeful transitioners were limited by a smattering of job postings, many of which required industry experience and specialized software knowledge. Now, healthcare providers have started to solicit outside opinions for chronic technical maladies.

Three Steps to a Career in Healthcare IT“Our job requisitions have doubled in the last 60 days,” says Todd Webb, director of business development for Red Sky Consulting, a provider of healthcare IT staffing based in Minneapolis. “Seven out of 10 providers are avidly seeking non-industry candidates and are offering generous salaries as well as training on specialized applications. But candidates need to take a strategic approach because employer pain varies across the industry.”

To transition your technical knowledge and business expertise to a new career in healthcare IT, follow these steps:

Look for Symptoms

Zero in on healthcare providers, such as hospitals and clinics, rather than product manufacturers or payers like private and public insurers.

While massive initiatives to automate and Web-enable patient records are on the horizon, providers must first alleviate underlying challenges, like disparate, non-integrated applications and the absence of sound analytics and business intelligence. These lead to inefficiencies, inconsistent tracking of medical outcomes and a lack of cost transparency.

“It isn’t unusual to find unrelated applications being used in accounting and patient billing, pharmacy, lab, outpatient services, employee timekeeping and so on,” says Webb. “Healthcare providers are seeking IT professionals who can integrate and ‘webinize’ those applications over the next 24 months, and previous industry experience is not a requirement.”

Don’t overlook opportunities in hybrid organizations, which provide both insurance and healthcare services. They often exhibit similar symptoms. Experts project an increase in hybrid models in the wake of healthcare reform because they streamline patient care.

Prescribe Therapy

Once you’ve identified a provider, it’s time to propose a treatment plan. If you’ve built Internet-based gateways, have .Net or Java Web development experience or C++, Oracle or SQL Server programming skills, somewhere a healthcare provider needs your services.

UNIX and Windows systems administrators and Microsoft reporting experts are also in demand, along with database administrators from the finance and banking industries, because they can easily transition to MUMPS-based healthcare applications from Epic, Meditech or GE Healthcare.

Top-notch analysts, business intelligence professionals and project managers who have a track record of creating bottom-line improvements are being snatched up for the industry’s greatest infirmity: administrative inefficiencies.

“The ‘A player’ business analysts and project managers will get the first shot at transitioning,” says Glenn Murani, recruiting manager for Magic Hat Consulting, a staffing firm focused on PMs and BAs based in Pennsylvania. “Because providers want to tap their expertise and have them drill down into the data to propose efficiencies or rescue troubled projects.”

Traditionally, providers have preferred former clinicians for BA roles, because of their ability to converse with physicians and understand unique business requirements. Now they’re pursuing disciplined individuals who have worked in highly structured environments like retail and financial services.

“Providers are coming around to the notion that candidates can learn the lingo and adapt their communication style to mesh with clinical end users,” says Webb. “They’re realizing that what they really need is an outsider who can orchestrate initiatives that will impact patient care.”

The industry mantra is quality patient care, which permeates daily activities and engenders the culture. Candidates who can link their technology prowess to better medical outcomes or patient care stand the best chance of making an early transition. Familiarity with HIPAA privacy laws and medical terminology can elevate candidates vying for opportunities in a recession-resistant industry.

Practice ‘Offensive’ Medicine

The best news for IT professionals is that providers have only started to assess their needs and make new hires. Webb foresees additional opportunities in information security and data warehousing down the road, and he’s currently staffing a project to roll-out Epic software to 3,200 clinics.

“If experienced IT professionals really want to transition to the healthcare industry, they shouldn’t wait until the job is posted,” Webb suggests. “They should apply now to get on providers’ radar screens, because the projects have just started to ramp up.”

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a writer and career advisor based in Southern California.

Comments

  1. BY Jo says:

    I too see the huge potential in the electronic medical records management field. I am an IT professional and have pursued jobs in this area only to be told the requirements include having clinical experience.
    I don’t know how to bridge that knowledge chasm.

    I don’t care if it is widgets, CRUs, or CBCs.; just tell me where the data is and what business factors drive the growth and I will measure, monitor, analyze, and forecast the necessary computer resource requirements for the workload!

  2. BY Jo says:

    I too see the huge potential in the electronic medical records management field. I am an IT professional and have pursued jobs in this area only to be told the requirements include having clinical experience.
    I don’t know how to bridge that knowledge chasm.

    I don’t care if it is widgets, CRUs, or CBCs.; just tell me where the data is and what business factors drive the growth and I will measure, monitor, analyze, and forecast the necessary computer resource requirements for the workload!

  3. BY Randy says:

    I am wondering what IS “clinical experience” when it comes to IT? Do I have to give injections or patch booboos?
    Do they mean medical application experience? Experience developing for a medical employer?

    Could anyone please give me a short answer?

    Thanks

  4. BY Randy says:

    I am wondering what IS “clinical experience” when it comes to IT? Do I have to give injections or patch booboos?
    Do they mean medical application experience? Experience developing for a medical employer?

    Could anyone please give me a short answer?

    Thanks

  5. BY Keri says:

    As someone who has been in healthcare IT for 10 years, there are several ways to bridge the “clinical or hospital experience” requirement.

    1) MBAs are beating out MHAs (Master of Healthcare Administration) these days. If you have an MBA, apply regardless of what the job requirements say.

    2) Take a few medical terminology, healthcare administration, healthcare technology, etc courses at a local community college.

    3) Join HIMSS and attend the monthly local chapter meetings.

    4) Consider attending a CPHIMS (Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems) training course. You could meet someone at the training course who can get your foot in the door… plus you’ll start to learn about the complicated healthcare IT systems and you can list the training on your resume. Alternatively purchase the related study guides so you start to learn the lingo.

    5) Lots of healthcare IT jobs are not focused on clincal applications. Look for business and back office system jobs first… ex. help desk, server team, interface teams, etc. Once your in it’s a lot easier to transfer to a clinical system team… and most large hospitals offer internal training courses on various clinical systems.

    Hope this helps!

  6. BY Keri says:

    As someone who has been in healthcare IT for 10 years, there are several ways to bridge the “clinical or hospital experience” requirement.

    1) MBAs are beating out MHAs (Master of Healthcare Administration) these days. If you have an MBA, apply regardless of what the job requirements say.

    2) Take a few medical terminology, healthcare administration, healthcare technology, etc courses at a local community college.

    3) Join HIMSS and attend the monthly local chapter meetings.

    4) Consider attending a CPHIMS (Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems) training course. You could meet someone at the training course who can get your foot in the door… plus you’ll start to learn about the complicated healthcare IT systems and you can list the training on your resume. Alternatively purchase the related study guides so you start to learn the lingo.

    5) Lots of healthcare IT jobs are not focused on clincal applications. Look for business and back office system jobs first… ex. help desk, server team, interface teams, etc. Once your in it’s a lot easier to transfer to a clinical system team… and most large hospitals offer internal training courses on various clinical systems.

    Hope this helps!

  7. BY Keri says:

    This is a follow-up to my post on July 1. Most of the time when it says “clinical experience required” you have to look at the entire job posting to determine exactly what they mean. Sometimes the hiring manager wants a clinician (ie.e. doctor, nurse, rad tech)… so the requirements will say “RN License Required” or “M.D. License Required”. Other times it means clinical information system and/or workflow analysis experience. So any analagous experience in a clinical setting (ex. hospital, ambulatory surgery center, physician’s office, etc.) will do.

    Everyone in healthcare IT will run into the following ANNOYING reality at some point in their career. Many hospitals and IDNs make major mistakes when it comes to hiring IT people. They think that if someone is a nurse or doctor for example, then they are automatically capable of nursing or physician information system analysis, design, training, implementation, etc. Obviously this is not true.

    Like Jo said, as trained IT professionals our skills can transcend any industry. But some IT hiring managers at hospitals just don’t understand this because often times they are former healthcare providers! Nurses and techs were often hired for healthcare IT job 20 years ago because no one with any IT talent went into healthcare IT because the pay was so bad. As more people from other industries and generations are injected into healthcare organizations this thinking will change…but it will take some time.

    In the meantime, read the entire job description and ask yourself “Does a nurse or doctor ***really*** have to do this job?”, and if the answer is no apply anyway. What do you have to lose?

  8. BY Keri says:

    This is a follow-up to my post on July 1. Most of the time when it says “clinical experience required” you have to look at the entire job posting to determine exactly what they mean. Sometimes the hiring manager wants a clinician (ie.e. doctor, nurse, rad tech)… so the requirements will say “RN License Required” or “M.D. License Required”. Other times it means clinical information system and/or workflow analysis experience. So any analagous experience in a clinical setting (ex. hospital, ambulatory surgery center, physician’s office, etc.) will do.

    Everyone in healthcare IT will run into the following ANNOYING reality at some point in their career. Many hospitals and IDNs make major mistakes when it comes to hiring IT people. They think that if someone is a nurse or doctor for example, then they are automatically capable of nursing or physician information system analysis, design, training, implementation, etc. Obviously this is not true.

    Like Jo said, as trained IT professionals our skills can transcend any industry. But some IT hiring managers at hospitals just don’t understand this because often times they are former healthcare providers! Nurses and techs were often hired for healthcare IT job 20 years ago because no one with any IT talent went into healthcare IT because the pay was so bad. As more people from other industries and generations are injected into healthcare organizations this thinking will change…but it will take some time.

    In the meantime, read the entire job description and ask yourself “Does a nurse or doctor ***really*** have to do this job?”, and if the answer is no apply anyway. What do you have to lose?

  9. BY rob says:

    Thank you, Keri for your insight. I have been wanting to get into this field now for a few months. I am taking your advice, and signing up for a medical terminology course and a health care administration course this fall. but i do want to comment on your advice to “apply anyway”.

    the fact is that most hiring managers are getting literally hundreds of applications/resumes for every job that they post. the bulk of them show up in their email within hours of posting a job. they do not have time to analyze every single one of them, and they usually have a clerk sort through them and discard anything that doesn’t at least meet the minimum requirements posted for the job.

    “apply anyway” may have worked in the days of 3% unemployment, but it doesn’t work when 15 million people are looking for jobs.

  10. BY rob says:

    Thank you, Keri for your insight. I have been wanting to get into this field now for a few months. I am taking your advice, and signing up for a medical terminology course and a health care administration course this fall. but i do want to comment on your advice to “apply anyway”.

    the fact is that most hiring managers are getting literally hundreds of applications/resumes for every job that they post. the bulk of them show up in their email within hours of posting a job. they do not have time to analyze every single one of them, and they usually have a clerk sort through them and discard anything that doesn’t at least meet the minimum requirements posted for the job.

    “apply anyway” may have worked in the days of 3% unemployment, but it doesn’t work when 15 million people are looking for jobs.

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