Academic Education

Our Power to Be the Change at HIMSS21: Ideas from Sue Feldman, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Sue Feldman

By Sue Feldman, Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in Health Informatics in Health Services Administration in the School of Health Professions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

HIMSS is the annual gathering of 45,000 of my closest friends and colleagues, many of whom I only see at the annual HIMSS Global Conference. Although I understood the decision, I was very disappointed to find out that HIMSS20 was cancelled. They say that emotional moments are so etched in our memories that we remember locations, smells, even what people were wearing. When a group of us found out that HIMSS20 had been officially cancelled, I had just finished giving a guest lecture at another university. I can still hear the sounds of disappointment of students missing their one chance to be a part of an annual experience like none other. My colleague and I stood in shock and disbelief.

Like everyone else, 2020 had me immersed in my work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham — teaching, scholarship, research, service — the stuff professors do. What I had not anticipated was the impact of my work. I was delighted when HIMSS leadership reached out to me to ask if I would be one of four subject matter experts to sit on the HIMSS21 Health and Safety Panel. I did not give it much thought before I said, “If it means getting HIMSS back in-person count me in.” Because HIMSS is such an effective network of academicians, practitioners, vendors, students and others, the HIMSS experience is different for each. For example, our Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) students compete in the annual HIMSS student case competition. While they are at HIMSS, they attend sessions and visit with vendors on the exhibition floor. Every year, they return to the classroom with a renewed hunger for learning Health Informatics. This experience can only happen when HIMSS is in-person. As an academic, I meet with other academics to discuss, brainstorm and strategize on the next Health Informatics project and reflect on projects from the previous year. I attend sessions to hear the latest research that is going on. This experience can only happen when HIMSS is in-person.

Regardless of who you are or what your reason is for attending HIMSS, the experience is like none other; the joy and excitement are palpable. Attendees leave HIMSS tired yet filled with knowledge and ideas — excited to put it all into action. So, as the Health and Safety Panel was meeting, we considered how to ensure those experiences remained intact. My perspective was simple: We will not please everyone and we cannot have it all. At the core, it was about balancing experience with risk. HIMSS has a history, so too does COVID-19 — one we love the other we fear. Our meetings were filled with difficult conversations around maintaining balance and erring on the side of lowering risk. Our panel had a chance to write the narrative and tell the story of the process to regain an experience we have all come to anticipate.

Please enjoy HIMSS21!

Health and Safety at HIMSS21: A Review of Our Best Practices
August 10 at 10 a.m. PDT
Venetian, Marcello 4501

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