2017 Most Influential Women in Health IT: How to Cultivate Career Success

Submitted by Adrienne M. Edens, MA, LCHIME, FCHIME, CHCIO, vice president, education, CHIME

2016 Most Influential Women in Health IT Awards judge


2017 has been an outstanding year for women in health IT. We saw a major increase in attention towards the gender gap. We expanded the national conversation on pay discrepancies. We also witnessed a much higher level of recognition for women leaders in healthcare. As a 2016 judge of the Most Influential Women in Health IT Awards, I continue to be impressed and inspired by the amazing work I see women doing in health IT. We are truly contributing to the transformation of healthcare every day.

Challenges facing women in health IT

Although there’s more to smile about when we look back on the milestones women in health IT have accomplished this year, it’s also important to address the challenges we still face. The most challenging issue for women in health IT is receiving recognition for their accomplishments and working to close the gender gap that, unfortunately, continues to exist. Though immense progress has been made in 2017, our journey is far from over.

So many women make significant contributions to the health IT field, while also having a deep understanding the work processes and the clinical environment in which care is delivered. We need to continue to engage with the important new initiatives that are transforming care – including electronic health record optimization, care coordination, patient experience, volume to value and service lines; and to be on the front lines of developing the business cases and value achievement models that will drive these changes. We also need to be sure that our women colleagues are recognized for their contributions in leading these initiatives. And each of us should be mentoring and supporting other women to be successful.

How to advance in your profession: be willing and flexible

There are many paths into health IT and many ways to fulfill professional goals and to advance. Now that many organizations have an EHR implemented, there are even more opportunities. I’ve worked with many women who came into IT from the clinical or business side; nurses, technicians, registrars, health information management professionals and many others. They brought their expertise to support implementation projects, and then enjoyed the work so much that they joined IT to help make the technology work even better for the healthcare team and for patients. This crossover benefits everyone. The IT team learns more about the business and clinical processes, and the business and clinical staff better understand the technology and how it can best be used to support care. In one of the organizations I worked with we deliberately created some 50/50 positions, where nursing professionals worked in IT half the time and on the nursing unit for the other half. This was a great way to develop their skills and increase the value of the systems support we provided to those areas. You need to keep looking for ways to step outside your day-to-day accountabilities.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Pursue training in Lean and build other process improvement skills.
  • Pursue higher education to gain more depth in critical healthcare capabilities. For example, informatics or supply chain can lead to greater engagement and involvement in healthcare initiatives that extend outside of IT.
  • Look for opportunities for assignments on large projects. For example, opening a new hospital, doing due diligence on a merger, developing a proposal for a new service, or evaluating a new application or business partner.
  • Develop relationships with people outside the IT department. Explore the organization you work for and learn all you can about it. Invite colleagues from outside the IT department to participate in focus groups and brainstorming sessions or to develop ways to improve service.
  • Find opportunities to observe other departments or shadow other staff as they do their work and invite them to shadow you to learn more about IT. Rounding regularly to departments and talking with people about their day-to-day use of IT systems is another good way to do this.
  • Ask questions and continue to learn.

Show interest and initiative

Often the way to get considered for new assignments is to ask questions and to show an interest in other areas of the organization. Early in my career, my organization began to move into the managed care market. I didn’t know a lot about managed care, so I asked the new director of the organization if I could meet with him and have him brief me on what he was working on. He ended up doing a whiteboard walkthrough of the key aspects of managed care, and was impressed that I was so interested in his work. We ended up working together on selecting and implementing a system to support his organization. Moving forward, I was more valued as an executive in my role as a CIO, because I had a good understanding of this part of the business. Setting up time with your peers and key stakeholders to interview them about their goals and challenges is another way to learn and develop better working relationships.

Keep cultivating your network

My advice to young professionals is the same for everyone: cultivate a network of colleagues you admire and trust. We can’t do our best work alone, and having other talented professionals we can call on adds to our ability to:

  • be creative,
  • develop innovative ideas,
  • move our initiatives forward, and
  • continue to learn and grow as leaders.

We all need people around us who can listen and give advice and feedback – who can help us solve a problem or think through a strategy, or just to talk with when we’re feeling challenged. Being a resilient and creative leader depends on having a network of people who can step in to offer advice and assistance. And we can offer the same level of support to them.

I am incredibly honored to have been a judge for the inaugural year of the HIMSS Most influential Women in Health IT Awards. I look forward to seeing what’s next for our gender, as we continue to pave the way for the future in healthcare.



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