What was your first job in healthcare IT and what experiences and skills did you have at the time to land that position?

What was your first job in healthcare IT and what experiences and skills did you have at the time to land that position? Any advice looking back as to what you would have done differently as well in that role?

My first job in healthcare IT was as Computer Training Coordinator for the community hospital where I worked after graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing. I was a medical surgical nurse for 6 years, and then took my first healthcare IT job in the nursing education department. The hospital was in the process of implementing its first healthcare information system (HIS), and I was responsible for all ‘computer training’ for the nursing department. This was long enough ago that the HIS was a mainframe system, and the training focused primarily on demographics look up and order entry. I put together the training manuals, recruited other trainers and super users, organized and published the training schedules, and did hands on training with the nursing staff around the clock.

So what experience or skills did I have to land that position?  Upon interview the hiring manager mostly wanted to know if I had experience using a computer (keep in mind that this was a few decades ago). Fortunately we had a computer at home for family use, so I could say YES, but I must confess that I wasn’t a computer expert by any means. The other skills that I feel qualified me for that job were organizational skills, detail orientation, communication skills, and logical thinking. Of course those skills come in handy in any job, but they are especially important in an informatics role.

Today the situation is quite different. According to HIMSS 2011 Nursing Informatics Workforce survey, fifteen percent of the respondents have received on-the-job training, but more than half of the respondents reported having a post graduate degree (56 percent) which includes Masters in Nursing or other field/specialty and PhD in Nursing or other field/specialty. Clearly to be eligible for an informatics job today, some formal informatics education is a necessity. Do nurses still get hired into informatics roles without experience? Yes, but I think they are in the minority, and they will certainly have to work hard to gain the necessary skills to be successful.

What would I have done differently in my first healthcare IT role? Perhaps I would take a few IT or project management courses, or pursue more formal informatics education. But, mostly I did what anyone in that position would do. I garnered all of my life skills, knowledge and experience, rolled up my sleeves and tackled the job at hand.

My advice to those in a similar situation is summarized below:

  • Don’t be afraid of doing something outside of your comfort zone.

Taking on that first healthcare IT role launched a whole new career for me – one that I have developed a deep passion for. It has afforded me opportunities to contribute to the advancement of nursing informatics as a specialty and its body of knowledge, and to develop new relationships and a network of colleagues around the world.

  • Reach out to others in similar roles to share experiences and lessons learned.

At the same time that I took on that first healthcare IT job, there were other nurses taking on similar roles in the greater Chicago area. Through outreach within our hospital networks we found each other and shared our stories. Together we organized the Midwest Alliance for Nursing Informatics, which later provided the foundation for the HIMSS Nursing Informatics Community. Other similar groups were forming around the country, and today these groups work together through the Alliance for Nursing Informatics to advance nursing informatics practice, education, policy and research.

  • Be open to new opportunities and ways to gain knowledge and experience.

Volunteer to be a super user, or participate in an informatics-related committee. Get involved with local or national policy efforts and share your hands-on knowledge of the healthcare environment. Join a nursing informatics group or organization and participate in developing tools and resources for others. Submit an application for an internship or fellowship program that will advance your leadership skills.

  • Look for ways to collaborate and partner with other individuals or groups.

Part of the enjoyment of doing innovative or creative work is collaborating with others who are doing similar things. Share stories and reach out to colleagues to build bridges across organizations and projects. Not only is it fun to work together, it’s a good way to get new ideas and broaden your thinking.

Whether you’re considering taking on a new informatics role, or you’re moving up the ladder in your own organization, apply your knowledge, skills and experience, network with others and exude confidence. You will be likely to succeed!