Becoming a Marketable Nurse


How can a nurse become marketable to employers seeking vendor specific knowledge that I do not have? I have the necessary skills as a manager, but not necessarily the precise vendor specific skills set.

Answers from Robert (Clark) Campbell responds:

It is indeed fairly difficult to get the experience without actually working with the system.  It is a classic Catch-22:  I need the experience to get the job, but I need the job to get the experience.

I would not worry about trying to get the experience necessarily.  Rather, try to determine why the employer thinks you need it.

I have experience with Department of Defense (DOD), VA, Cerner, and Siemens systems.  I have been involved in health IT for over 25 years.  I have never seen a situation where I would not have hired someone for an informatics position simply because she didn’t know system X.   Based upon other criteria, I can determine if the candidate can learn the necessary information rapidly enough.  In fact, when I was interviewed for my first job after college (with a small company called EDS), the manager said “we can teach anyone to program.  What we look for is leadership qualities.”  This has led me to think that refusal to hire due to lack of particular system experience is an excuse.

So, how do you approach the problem?  First, realize there is not that much unique about the various systems.  They all have to perform the same functions.  Rather than dealing with specifics, focus on how, in principle, systems are used to improve patient care.  Demonstrate your ability to take a system, any system, and facilitate showing the staff how to use it in patient care, or other areas.

An example may help.  Just after I started my current job, with no knowledge of the particular system, I discovered the quality management nurse was doing manual chart reviews to determine compliance with PRN medication follow up.  All I knew was that the nurses used an EMR.  I asked why they were doing the reviews manually rather than generating a report.  She gave my favorite answer – “we’ve always done it that way.”  Long story short, I had the programmer add one database item, changed one step in the nursing documentation process, and now the report is generated automatically.

All I knew was that systems can typically run reports on data contained within the system.

Second, clearly understand what your job is going to entail. Will you be doing system training, implementation, end user support, or project management?  In reality, about the only job that truly requires extensive knowledge of a particular system is that of system administration.  Every other job, including that of training, should not require specific system knowledge.  In fact, having knowledge specific to that system can be a drawback, because you are importing a bunch of information learned somewhere else that may not readily transfer to the new environment.

Finally, remember that an employer is really faced with a difficult task.  How do they separate the wheat from the chaff in all the resumes they received?  An employee comes with a set of skills.  The employer comes with a list of skills.  Your task, becoming marketable, basically consists of promoting the skills you have.  If they ask you about a specific system, be honest.  Know enough about the system to be able to speak to how the skills and systems you know will easily transition to this other system.

Of course, you should always research any organization for which you wish to work.  You also need to know the healthcare environment, not just nursing or even informatics.  And, as noted above, you need to have an honest assessment of yourself and your skills.  Being able to articulate both your knowledge of the organization and the benefits an EMR brings to healthcare should more than offset most concerns about lack of specific system knowledge.

Answers from Beth Halley:

Robert (Clark) has provided some valuable insight into gaining understanding of a vendor’s application, researching a vendor’s corporate mission and market, as well as assessing the skills you would bring to a clinical application vendor.

I would add that as a nurse (and a skilled manager as you noted) that your knowledge of the clinical environment is a very valuable asset. One can always learn an application but the knowledge you bring in understanding the clinical environment, workflow and patient needs is irreplaceable, so don’t underestimate the knowledge you bring. 

Also, if there is a particular vendor you are interested in learning more about and working for, I would suggest the following:

  1. If the vendor system is implemented at your current work place, volunteer to be on committees/task forces that work on system design and implementation projects. It will show you have a keen desire to learn the system.
  2. Consider doing a research project that would involve a particular vendor’s application.
  3. Contact the vendor’s Nursing Informatics Group/Department and asks about opportunities to attend their User Group Meetings or other learning opportunities regarding their applications.
  4. Consider requesting your local Nursing Informatics Organization do training on the specific application (if you are not a member, think about joining).
  5. Bring the same request to the HIMSS Nursing Informatics Task Force

I started my Nursing Informatics career working for a strong Health IT Vendor.  At the time, I had little system knowledge but showed a willingness to learn the applications and to be engaged in application design, clinical collaboration and system implementation. For me, demonstrating my clinical workflow knowledge, teamwork skills and strong desire to learn the applications worked. 
I must say it was the best career decision I ever made. 
Best of luck to you on your career journey!

May 2012