Every year our HIMSS Foundation awards scholarships to student members of HIMSS showing great potential as future leaders in the industry. We spoke with three scholarship recipients to learn more about the experiences that led them to where they are now and how they see themselves transforming healthcare through information and technology in the future.
How Did You Become Interested in Pursuing a Career in Healthcare Information and Technology?
Ana Maria Castilla, Biomedical Informatics Masters Student, Nova Southeastern University; Recipient of the South Florida Chapter of HIMSS Scholarship: I was always interested in the life sciences and healthcare. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) with the hopes of continuing onto a professional degree in healthcare. However, as a student, I worked for the information technology department where I gained valuable experience in the field. Most importantly, I discovered I enjoyed working with technology and I saw how it had become a vital part of any field.
I began researching graduate degrees eventually coming across the master’s of biomedical informatics at NSU. I was thrilled! It seemed to be a perfect fit for my background and skills. With each class I became more and more interested in the field. I was excited to have the opportunity to combine two fields that I am passionate about into a career choice.
Ephrance Kalungi, Biomedical Informatics Student, Arizona State University; Recipient of the Arizona Chapter of HIMSS Scholarship: Since my young age, I have always been passionate about healthcare and yarning to see its prosperity. For years, the major artifact used in healthcare was paper, which was not effective enough, since it was difficult to extract healthcare data and use it to discover trends or even recognize the changes required to ameliorate healthcare.
On learning about health information technology and its benefits – seeding up care delivery, fostering patient involvement in care, easing access to care, improving patient experience and outcomes – among other benefits, I could not hesitate to join this race to design more solutions to the daily challenges encountered in healthcare, and thus fulfill my lifelong passion of advancing healthcare.
Lauren Snyder, Biomedical and Health Informatics PhD Student, University of Washington; Recipient of the Steve Lieber Innovator Scholarship: When working on my master’s of public health, I came to understand the need and difficulty of working with health data to evaluate programs and that health information technology can help mitigate this challenge. I decided to pursue a certificate in health informatics, which led to a fellowship at a hospital and health department, and led to my PhD. At each stage of the process, I’ve realized that there is so much more to learn, encouraging me to continue my education and career development.
What Advice Do You Have for Others Looking to Study Healthcare Information and Technology?
Castilla: The best advice I can give is to try to experience what work in the field would be like, in whichever way is possible for you. You might be able to participate in a job shadowing program at work, even in a related field. You can enroll in a course online and see if you enjoy it. An online course may even prepare you to take a certification or two.
For me, it was my graduate program that allowed me to get started. I believe perusing a degree is a great way to become familiar with the kind of work that is available in the field. It exposes you to a variety of subjects where you can learn your preferences, and which would be best suited for your individual skillsets. Also, most programs offer practicums which is a great first step. In addition, perusing a degree allows you to interact with likeminded individuals with similar career goals and make connections. My professors and fellow students were always available to give me advice.
It was through school that I first learned about professional organizations such as HIMSS. Attending my local chapter events gave me even more insight into the field and the kind of projects being accomplished by local healthcare organizations. I say become knowledgeable and make connections!
Kalungi: First and foremost, I encourage those looking to study health information technology not to hesitate because this an opportunity for them to contribute to the advancement and betterment of healthcare and save the lives of many, as well as leverage their problem solving and technical skills to make a long lasting change on the planet. Once a part of this field, work diligently and build skills that will open doors to the vast number of employment opportunities available in this field.
Snyder: Look toward the future of the field rather than the current problems and skills needed. Health IT is a dynamic field that is growing and changing quickly, and there is a great need to keep up and think proactively.
What Challenges Are You Looking Forward to Tackling Once Working in the Healthcare Information and Technology Field?
Castilla: Like many of us, I have been a patient, trying to coordinate visits with multiple providers and finding that not all the information is always available. Because of this I am most looking forward to tackling the interoperability of systems. I believe much can be improved on this front and I am excited for the future.
I am also very interested in how to extract meaningful information from the vast amounts of healthcare data being collected on a daily basis. I would love to help in using it to improve the health of our communities.
Kalungi: As a part of healthcare information technology, I look forward to tackling the issue of interoperability, one of the biggest challenges facing the use of technology in healthcare. My desire is to foster high-quality care by boosting communication among providers, payers and other parties involved in healthcare and healthcare information technology. In this initiative, I await the ability to send, receive and manage information between systems and improve patient identification in various healthcare information systems, among other benefits associated with interoperability.
Snyder: I’m really excited about information visualization and understanding diverse user needs to design effective solutions. I think we’ve progressed in managing and cleaning data, now is the time to understand what to do with it and how to make a meaningful impact on stakeholders and end users.
What Is the Number One Thing You’ve Done as a Student That You Feel Will Set You up for Success in Your Career and Explain Why?
Castilla: I believe the number one thing I have done is to show interest and willingness to learn. Connecting with those in my community from which I could learn from was vital to me. I believe if you do your best to study and build your skillsets, the next step is to ask advice and guidance from those in the field. I did this through work, school and as a student member of the South Florida Chapter of HIMSS. I have often received great advice by simply asking, listening and putting into practice.
Kalungi: In my position as an intern with a company that executes polymerase chain reactions (PCR) on cancer tumor specimens and constructs heat maps to disclose the heterogeneity of cancer cells, I have built a program that I named "The PCR Data Analysis Program," which is currently being used by the company to analyze PCR data. This program has lowered the time and energy invested in analyzing PCR data by over 80%, according to my supervisor. Using these similar techniques and more, I am positive I will build more programs to analyze electronic medical record data, a capacity that will set me up for multitudinous employment opportunities in the field of healthcare information technology.
Snyder: I think being a student allows for the opportunity to gain a wide range of experiences. As a student, I’ve been able to work on projects in hospitals, public health departments and international settings. I hope that this diversity of experiences will bring me a good perspective and breadth of knowledge in the workforce. Also, concentrating on skill-based coursework while pursuing my degree has broadened my toolset for my career.
How Has Receiving This Scholarship Helped Your Prospects for Getting a Job or Growing in Your Career?
Castilla: I was so honored to have received this scholarship. I believe it shows that I’m very interested in the field of healthcare information technology and also that I am willing to go the extra step to learn and keep developing professionally. The field of healthcare is constantly evolving and it is important to remain curious. I believe this is a valuable skillset for any employer.
One of the benefits of receiving the scholarship was being able to attend the HIMSS Global Conference. It was great to be able to have a well-informed discussion with others in the field about the technologies that are transforming healthcare.
Kalungi: Receiving the Arizona Chapter of HIMSS Scholarship opened doors for me to be part of HIMSS and participate in the Arizona Chapter of HIMSS events, as well as the HIMSS Global Conference. At these social gatherings, I have had an opportunity to meet and build strong networks with potential employers and have received remarkable advice on how to build strong skills that will set me up for many employment opportunities in healthcare information and technology.
Snyder: It has been great for networking and getting to know other professionals – both from attending the HIMSS Global Conference and meeting the other scholarship winners. Further, the scholarship has allowed me to access some software for my research and enroll in other technical skill building courses. I am so grateful for the generosity of the HIMSS community and the opportunities that this scholarship has provided.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
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