Workforce Development

Workforce Development and Student Preparedness

From the perspective of an educator, the goal we most want to see achieved is the successful entry of our our students into the workplace, and their growth within the industry. Students emerge from an academic program expecting a clear career path from that entry to their eventual retirement. Despite great opportunity in Health IT, the route that a career path will follow is complicated by a significant number of factors. These include the inconsistency of job titles across the workforce, job postings that specify requirements for various skills and experiences that may not fully align with new graduates professional and personal experiences, and never ending change in healthcare technology, policies, and mandates that impact the HIT professional space. Despite these complications, opportunities for successful careers in Health IT continue to grow, and we continue to work to answer the question of “how do we bridge these gaps to ensure new graduates will succeed and support the continued expansion of the industry?”

The 2019 HIMSS Workforce Leadership and Workforce Survey illustrated that healthcare organizations are prioritizing “cybersecurity, privacy, and security”, “improving quality outcomes through health information and technology”, and “data science/analytics/clinical and business intelligence”. Advancements in technology are a significant contributor to the increased need for professionals to fill these roles. Studies evaluating workforce trends show that technology is rapidly evolving to automate more administrative tasks, creating less need for professionals to take on these roles, while there is greater need for individuals with technical proficiency. It is clear that these opportunities will continue to expand and provide the greatest likelihood of progression within an individual’s career.

Sandefer, Marc, Mancilla, and Hamada  (2015) evaluated workforce survey data that yielded responses from 6,475 HIT professionals. The survey asked respondents to rate the percentage of their time they spend on current tasks, and then add how much they anticipate they will spend on the same tasks 10 years in the future.The findings of the study revealed that many HIT professionals engage most of their time on diagnostic and procedural coding and records processing, but they expect these tasks to decline the most in the future. So where will the growth continue to come from? Leadership, teaching, and informatics roles are expected to increase the most in the future.

In 2018, Sandefer analyzed survey data from 274 senior-level professionals within clinical (e.g., hospitals, clinics) and non-clinical (e.g., software vendors, consulting firms) organizations. The study examined perception of needed job skills, competencies, and education required by HIT professionals during the next 5 to 10 years. The findings suggested that there will be a greater need for professionals with a bachelor’s degree and above to fulfill roles in informatics, data analytics, information privacy and security, and information technology. In order to advance within a future career, continued education offers an obvious benefit in the development of the aforementioned skills, whether that education comes in the form of a formal degree or through industry-accepted certifications and trainings.

The takeaways are promising, as all indicators suggest continued growth and opportunity for HIT professionals, particularly those with more technical proficiencies. Work will carry on in defining pathways and bringing the expanding market into focus. As mentioned, the job market can be confusing due to the inconsistencies in job titles used to describe roles. Marc, Robertson, Gordon, Green-Lawson, Gibbs, Dover, and Dougherty (2017) illustrated that when these diverse job titles are categorized into groups based on job postings, there are significant opportunities in medical records administration, revenue cycle, IT infrastructure/support, and analytics/informatics. Persistence may be the key in successfully identifying the relevant positions, searching by skillset rather than job title when possible. Backing up the previous discussion regarding continued education, there is a recent growth in IT privacy and security and a trend towards hiring professionals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree is notable.

Collectively, the HIT workforce is ripe for opportunity, particularly for those that have technical skills and those with a higher level of education. Those that are graduating from academic programs in the near future or are early in their career can prepare themselves for advancing in the job market by ensuring they have the skillset that matches the trends outlined above. This may require a personal commitment to continued education (e.g., enroll in trainings and courses, attend conferences), finding opportunities to work on projects within your current job that will support growth of desired skills, or more formally advance their education by seeking a degree.

There are a number of options for learning new skills or advancing your education. For example, free courses called MOOCs are available to enhance any number of technical and administrative skills. These are often online and offered through training organizations or colleges/universities. There are low cost solutions such as trainings/workshops, online courses/webinars, and conferences that can support advancement of skills while also supporting the growth of a professional network. Education can also be sought by enrolling in an academic program. CAHIIM offers a directory of programs that have achieved accreditation in health information management or health informatics, which establishes that the program has met specific requirements to prepare graduates for the workforce.

Although the job market can be confusing with the wide variety of job titles, there remains clarity in one thing -- technology will continue to evolve and there will continue to be a need for people to support that technology. It is in the best interest of students and early careerists to consider advancing their technical proficiency (and maybe exploring higher levels of education) to stay on top of this trend and remain relevant and secure in the rapidly evolving HIT professional space.

David Marc, PhD, CHDA, Associate Professor, Department Chair, Health Informatics Graduate Program Director, The College of St. Scholastica, Part of the HIMSS Approved Education Partner Program

Eric Nordgren, Program Manager, Department of Health Informatics and Health Information, The College of St. Scholastica, Part of the HIMSS Approved Education Partner Program

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