Meet Our Member: Willa Fields, DNSc, RN, FHIMSS

San Diego State Univeristy School of Nursing

Willa Fields, DNSc, RN, FHIMSS
Member, HIMSS Board of Directors
Professor, School of Nursing, San Diego State University

Willa Fields, DNSc, RN, FHIMSS, professor, School of Nursing, San Diego State University, is the Chair of the HIMSS Board.

Fields has a diverse background in clinical nursing, education, research, performance improvement, management and information systems that spans more than 40 years. She teaches courses in informatics, personnel management and quality improvement in the graduate nursing program. Her research explores practices that improve patient safety and the provision of patient care. From 2000 to 2006, Fields was the vice president of patient care systems in the Information Systems Department at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, Calif. She was responsible for the patient care computer systems, including implementation of new core clinical systems that included provider order entry.


HIMSS: How did you become involved with HIMSS?

Fields: The HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition was held in San Diego in 2003 (where I live), and I helped organize a one-day symposium for foreign attendees at Sharp HealthCare, where I worked. I enjoyed interacting with the HIMSS staff. The following year, I volunteered to be an annual conference proposal reviewer. In 2006, I volunteered to serve on the Annual Conference Education Committee (ACEC), and was turned down! That did not deter me. The next year I resubmitted my committee application for the ACEC. This time I was accepted, and ultimately, became the chair of the committee. Lesson learned: get involved, and do not take it personally, if you are turned down for a volunteer activity. Committee membership is determined by factors such as professional background, previous HIMSS experience and geographic location. Now, I was really hooked on HIMSS, and applied to be a member of the Nursing Informatics Committee. From there, I decided to run for a seat on the HIMSS Board of Directors, and ultimately, became the board chair, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience.


HIMSS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with HIMSS?

Fields: There are so many, but one of the most rewarding moments that will stand out forever occurred at HIMSS13, when I was able to meet President Clinton. I had the opportunity to "chat" with him; the man is magical! I was able to personally thank him for all of the good works he has done since leaving the White House, and I especially thanked him for speaking so positively about nurses, healthcare, and health IT in his talk at the conference.


HIMSS: Please describe some of the milestone events in your career.

Fields: I've been a nurse forever, and have been fortunate to have so many milestone events. Working from the present time backward, some of the milestones have been: being HIMSS Board Chair; testifying at a congressional subcommittee on behalf of HIMSS (what an incredible advocacy experience); participating in the HIMSS Health IT delegation to Israel (I learned so much); completing several research projects on how electronic health records (EHRs) affect nurses; earning tenure and being promoted to professor at San Diego State University; and publishing numerous professional articles and mentoring others to do the same.

Here's some specifics on one of the research studies that is being published in the next Journal of Healthcare Information Management (JHIM) issue. I was the principle investigator for a research study at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in San Diego on nurses’ views on transitioning from a clinical information system with disparate clinical computer systems to an integrated, comprehensive EHR with computerized provider order entry (CPOE). With the new system, the nurses now have access to an integrated view of patient information.  Most research EHRs and CPOE have been conducted on transitioning from paper medical records to EHRs, but there’s not been much research on transitioning from one electronic system to another, especially from a “best of breed” system to a one vendor, integrated solution. Transitioning to a new EHR is difficult and disruptive for nurses. The results from our study are helping to identify issues of adoption and usability, which is promoting strategies to improve clinician training, clinical workflow, and support. All of this is important to help ensure patient safety.


HIMSS: Please describe accomplishments you’ve made during your time as the Chair of the HIMSS Board, as your term comes to an end on June 30.

Fields: One of the things I'm proud of during my term as chair was more directly linking our board activities to the HIMSS vision and mission statement. Our board agendas now list the vision, mission, and the four pillars of the mission (improved quality, improved safety, increased cost effectiveness, and increased access to care), so we can easily see them. Now our discussions are often framed by HIMSS’ vision and mission. I was also pleased to talk about the vision, mission, and pillars in my address at HIMSS13 and the progress health IT is making in transforming healthcare through the effective use of health IT.


HIMSS: Why are nurses needed in the field of informatics?

Fields: Nurse Informaticists are the integrators of patient care delivery, workflow, and technology. They are expert clinicians who apply nursing knowledge to the field of informatics. Nurse informaticists are needed to help nurses and other clinicians understand and use technology to improve patient care, and to help technology professionals understand patient care to better develop and design products. In 2008 the American Nurses Association* updated the definition of nursing informatics to be a nursing specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice.

* Nursing Informatics: Scope and Standards of Practice


HIMSS: What are the most notable changes you’ve seen in the field of health IT over the course of your career?

Fields: The digitization of healthcare. I entered nursing school in 1965; absolutely everything is different now. Everything was on paper, and nursing documentation wasn't even part of the permanent medical record. So not only have I've seen the digitization of healthcare, I've also seen the creation of informatics as a specialization in nursing and other healthcare fields.


HIMSS: What advice would you give professionals just entering the field of healthcare, nursing or nursing informatics?

Fields: I get asked this question a lot and could talk about the answer forever! Follow your interests and heart. Find a mentor to guide you through your career choices. I believe nursing, nursing informatics, or any of the healthcare professions, are some of the most rewarding career choices a person can make. There's no better way (that I know of) to make a contribution to society, to do meaningful work, and to help others. Get involved in professional organizations, like HIMSS. Attend local meetings; get to know the members and leaders; volunteer to be on a committee, and then, volunteer to chair the committee. It’s through the work of volunteers that associations are able to meet their mission, and members are able to grow professionally.