UIC Master’s in Health Informatics Online Student Diary – And So It Begins. . .


My name is Ryan Esslinger and I am a student in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program.  I have been asked to share my experiences as an online UIC student, so for the next few months I will do my best to take you along for the ride that is my life!  This December marks nearly a year since I have been enrolled.  My how time flies!  I am currently enrolled in a business communications course and have about four weeks left of class until winter break.  Soon enough, spring semester 2011 will be here and my second year as a working student will be well underway.

To me, there’s nothing more that speaks to the phrase “modern day working student” than being enrolled in the UIC MSHI program. While the program is also offered in the traditional academic setting, (onsite at UIC in Chicago) I opted to take the online-only route.  This was a logical choice for me as I was not keen on relocating out of state.  While I do love Chicago, (I spent 3 years there) I’m not yet ready to leave the beautiful weather here in Atlanta.  I’ll admit that the online-only program is not for everybody, but it definitely fit the bill for me.  I’m able to work full-time while simultaneously working towards my degree in one of the hottest fields known to my generation.   Not only that, I’m able to do all of this from the comfort of my home, or wherever an Internet or wireless connection is readily available.  Surely I don’t envy those that have to commute in bumper to bumper traffic to one of the local universities here in Atlanta!

Background, Experience, and How I Entered the Program

I’ll never forget the day I discovered UIC’s program.  I was doing my usual web surfing and research, when I came across a banner advertisement for UIC’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program on a popular Healthcare IT (HIT) blog.  The more I learned about the program, the more excited I became.  What better way to supplement my work experience than to learn more about the evolving field that I already had experience in?  I quickly got to work on gathering the necessary pieces together for admission and started the application process.  At the time, I even did some comparison shopping to see if there were any other schools out there that offered similar programs.  There were other programs, but none seemed to fit my preferences quite like UIC’s.  After anxiously waiting several weeks to hear about my admissions status, I was accepted into the program in December 2009.  I happily accepted and by January 2010, I was enrolled and fully engaged in my first online class.

My Life as a UIC Student

I usually kick off my day by checking the headlines and blogs to see what’s new in the HIT world.  Coffee in hand, I typically spend at least 15-20 minutes doing this every morning.  It goes without saying that there is a ton of activity happening in the HIT industry, and I continually try to push myself to stay on top of the latest trends and technologies.  Who’s hiring?  Who bought who?  Which VP left which company?  These are all questions that I’m seeking to understand.  I argue that part of being a good student is simply being informed.  There are limitless applications, no matter what course I’m currently enrolled in.

It may not seem like it, but my life as a student is far from routine.  Every week is different.  Three weeks ago I was doing schoolwork while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico.  Two weeks ago I was finalizing a paper while relaxing and hiking in north Georgia over the weekend.  This week I was taking notes at a local HIT Executive Summit in Atlanta and following up on my assigned group’s discussion.  This weekend, I’ll enjoy the company of my family coming into town, while wrapping up my second paper for my latest unit.  I’ve even easily managed to ask my longtime girlfriend to marry me, all while remaining fully engaged in class.  Do you see what I’m getting at with the benefits of a non-traditional program?  The girlfriend (now fiance) said yes by the way!

And So We Begin. . .

Having a full-time job and taking masters-level courses as a student (even when online) requires a lifestyle adjustment.  Depending on my workload, I typically devote at least 20 hours a week to school.  This is on top of my 45+ hour work week.  I always prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, and I do my best not to be discouraged by the added stress of a job.  And now I’ve added Healthcare IT Today Blogger to my list of to-dos!  I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you as I forge ahead with UIC’s Master’s in Health Informatics program – I welcome your comments and suggestions!  Until next time ~

name is Ryan Esslinger and this is a day in my life as a student in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program. I have been a UIC MSHI student since January 2010, and I expect to graduate sometime in early 2012. Outside of my duties as a UIC MSHI

About the author


Ryan Esslinger

Ryan Esslinger is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Online Health Informatics Program. Ryan currently works full time as an Informatics Analyst at Wellstar Health System.


  • Great blog Ryan, I am also an online graduate student majoring in healthcare informatics at University of Central Florida. I will be graduating this spring. I understand the time stretching, being married with a 23 month old working full time and teaching as a part time online adjunct instructor 🙂 I look forward to your future posts!

  • Thank you Veronica. It is great to hear that Health Informatics is evolving as a prominent area of study. I wish you the best in your future endeavors come graduation time Spring 2011. Sounds like you have a lot on your plate!

  • Ryan, what a pleasant surprise to find your blog while exploring one of the links in our reading list for this week’s assignment! I am thrilled you will have this blogging opportunity to share your experience as a UIC student. I have appreciated your contributions during classes we have shared together at UIC and look forward to following this blog.

  • Luanne, you found me! I have enjoyed your contributions to our business communications course as well. I am glad to see that you have dived into the additional readings that were assigned for this unit. HealthcareITCentral is a great site to learn more about HIT. I look forward to hearing more from you soon!

  • Hey Ryan! I ran across your blog after searching for “mshi” and “uic” on Google. It was nice meeting you during our on-site class these past few days. The networking opportunity and the Chicago experience was better than what I had expected! I really wished there was another opportunity to connect with the class in a future. I’ll be keeping an eye for your next posts. By the way, congratulations on your engagement!

  • Mark, it was a pleasure meeting you as well last weekend in Chicago. I completely agree with you that the UIC onsite experience exceeded all expectations. Thank you for the congratulations on the engagement. Life is very busy right now, but be sure to look out for a new post coming very soon!

  • Ryan,

    Congratulations on your ongoing efforts toward your MHI at UIC. I am also a student. I have 3 classes left and will be finished in the summer of 2011. It has been a tremendous ride with UIC. I am extremely impressed with the student-adviser relationship they build and the ease of use of their student application system to manage payment, loans, registration, etc. Their use of the Blackboard system is awesome and the professors seem to be Blackboard experts!

    While I look forward to graduating, I will miss the fantastic faculty. They are both personable and experts in their fields and are always willing to talk and help the students.

    Again, congratulations on choosing UIC-MHI.

  • Ryan,
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Like many, I was laid off in 2009 and decided to return to school. This month, I will complete 24 hours required for a certificate in Medical Coding. Having a background in IT, this has only whetted my appetite for more knowledge and expertise in the field of HIT, and I have begun working with my advisor to map out a plan to pursue a Master’s degree like you.

    As you have, I am also looking at various schools. The University of Tennessee at Memphis offers an online Master’s program in Health Informatics and Information Management, and that currently seems like my best option. I have some prerequisite hours to complete before I can enroll in the program, and I am actually working today to nail down my plans for next semester.

    Always good to hear from others sharing a similar path, and I am pleased to hear things are going well for you. I look forward to following your future posts,

  • David,

    It is always a pleasure hearing from someone who’s further along in the program. It sounds like graduation will be bitter-sweet, but I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I have so far. I agree that the faculty and structure of the program make UIC’s MSHI program one of a kind.


    There are many individuals out there with similar stories such as yours. I encourage you to do what’s best for your situation. While a Master’s Degree is no silver bullet to landing a job, learning is a lifelong experience; employers value individuals such as yourself that take the initiative to better themselves through academic outlets in specified areas of interest. I think you are smart to gain experience in coding, as that is a critical piece in the HIT arena.

    It is always good to have both short and long-term goals. As an outsider looking in, you are ahead of the game! If I can help you in any way, do not hesitate to contact me.


  • Ryan it’s awesome how you’re documenting your experience. I’ve always wondered how people manage working and furthering their education. Well done sir!

  • Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am also in the UIC HI program where I just completed my 6th semester. I am really enjoying the experience and the information we are learning in our classes is invaluable.

    I still feel that the program could be improved. e.g.
    1.Project groups should be kept the same throughout the class, so as to build student connections (which is a disadvantage of online learning)

    2.Blackboard could be less cumbersome (it has improved through the 6 months I have been in the program)

    3.Video blogs from professors that adds a personal touch or even students if applicable. After all, our program is a specialized IT and information program that promotes the use of information technology.

    What are areas of our program/classes you feel could be improved?

    Good luck with classes next semester.

  • Drew,

    Glad to hear that you’re enjoying notes from the virtual classroom. As you may have noted, balancing, work, life, and school is not easy, but it is definitely not impossible!


    I agree that there is always room for improvement. While I understand your concern about groups, I actually prefer rotating group members, as it more accurately resembles working with teams on the job. As for BlackBoard, it is not without its headaches, but is a significant improvement over its previous versions. I believe that UIC faculty and staff have a good technical understanding of Blackboard.

    Last, I agree with you that video blogs or “vlogs” may serve the student body well; I would imagine that UIC has looked into this, or will be looking into this in the near future.

  • Hi Ryan, thanks for the response. I feel precious time is wasted becoming accustomed to a new team’s work schedule and project style each week. The content of our UIC classes are much more valuable than obtaining the temperament to deal with rapid changing groups. Also by keeping the same project groups every week will build stronger bonds between students. Professors can rotate the roles/leadership of group members. The discussion groups, however, can be changed weekly. That is just my opinion. Thanks


  • Avl,

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I do know that there are other students that share similar opinions to yours regarding group member assignments.

    Regardless, it seems like you and I both find the UIC MSHI program to be invaluable. I have heard other students say the same. I am very glad I chose UIC’s program over other schools that offer similar programs!

    Best wishes to you as you continue to pursue your MS in Health Informatics!

  • Hi Ryan, To supplement my criticism our HI program has many strengths; highly experienced instructors, excellent readings and assignments, timely feedback and proactive critiques, engaging and thought provoking discussions.

    Our program is a leader in HI education. I grateful for the instructors we have and I believe I madethe right choice.

  • Hi Ryan,

    I am an IS eHR application manager who will begin the MSHI program for Spring 2011 (January 10th). It has been a while since I’ve been in school, and as excited as I am about the program, I must admit I am beginning to get cold feet.

    Any advice?


  • Angie,

    The best advice I can give you is simply to “stick with it”. UIC’s MSHI program is a great program. Also, going back to school is a great opportunity for you to step outside your comfort zone, which is something that is very applicable in the HIT industry. Are you taking one course at a time, every eight weeks? That would be my only recommendation (assuming you are working full-time). I find that taking one course at a time allows me to concentrate and focus more easily on the course content.

    Aside from that, I wouldn’t worry too much; after a few weeks, you will get accustomed to the routine and structure of UIC’s MSHI online program. Some days are easier than others, but overall, it is very manageable. Remember, this program is specifically designed for working individuals! Students and staff are also extremely helpful.

  • Hi Ryan! Your blog is very informative. In my opinion, for a 100% online program, detailed information on how to apply should be easily accessible through the website. The contrary is the case with this program. It has been impossible for me to speak with my advisor for the past 4 months (we live in different time zones & our availabilities differ greatly!). Also, it seems like a forbidden task for advisors to send a detailed application information via e-mail. I really want to start this program in May 2011. Could you please help me out? Thank you 🙂

  • Hi Lois, I just saw your post. I am the marketing manager for the UIC HI & HIM programs. I am sorry for the problems that you have been experiencing during the enrollment process. I have reached out to your enrollment advisor, Joan Ziegler, and she will contact you by the end of the day today.

    Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions in the meantime.

    Thank you, Keira

  • Ryan, I recently graduated from the MSHI program at University of Central Florida. I am interested to know what your career plans are after you graduate. I am leaning towards a career with a quality improvement organization or the Department of Veterans Health Affairs.

  • Veronica, congratulations on graduating! I was not aware that UCF has an MSHI program. It sounds like you have a good idea of what you’re looking for career-wise. I would also recommend checking out other federal health employers (i.e. NIH, CDC, etc.), as you continue to seek out opportunities at the Dept. of VA.

    As for me, I’m not quite sure what I plan on doing with my degree once I graduate. I really like my boss, and I love the people that I work with. I’m hopeful that there will be new opportunities within my current organization in the future, as there are applications of health informatics that can be used in an actuarial setting.

  • Bob,

    As the Editor of Healthcare IT Today, I feel compelled to respond to the multiple comments you’ve submitted under numerous aliases over the past few days. While I fully support your right to voice your opinion, I find the manner in which you’ve chosen to do so unprofessional and bordering on slanderous. I’ve chosen to keep the link to your blog available to our readers so if they are interested in your opinions they have access to them.

    Allow me to clear up a few of your misconceptions about Ryan Esslinger’s role as a blogger here on Healthcare IT Today:

    1. Ryan is not being compensated monetarily in any way for his contributions. Many of our readers are interested in furthering their education and Ryan has graciously agreed to provide his perspective as he continues his journey through the UIC Master’s program. By doing so, Ryan is providing entertaining and informative content for our readers, and introducing his “personal brand” to industry employers – a very smart career move on his part.
    2. All opinions expressed by Ryan are his own, and are not edited or pre-approved by UIC.
    3. UIC is not “buying” this exposure. All universities who offer an Informatics curriculum are welcome to apply to join the blogging team. UIC and Duke just happen to be the only two universities who are taking advantage of this opportunity for their students at the present time.

    If you have any further questions or comments about the UIC program and wish to discuss them in a professional manner, feel free to contact me directly at GwenDarling at HealthcareITCentral.com. I’m happy to help you find the appropriate channels for airing any legitimate grievances with UIC.

    Gwen Darling
    Healthcare IT Today

  • Ryan, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with all of us. There seems to be many busy students and professionals that are taking distance learning courses these days. Online IT degrees and online nursing programs appear to be some of the more popular courses being studied. Again we all appreciate your contributions and sharing.

  • Online IT Degree,

    Thank you for your feedback. I am glad that my posts have proved to be informative, and I agree with your assessment that online distance learning is a great alternative to traditional classroom learning, especially for working professionals.

    It is no surprise to me that nursing and healthcare are popular programs, as future job growth will be high in these areas.



  • HI Ryan,

    Thank you for the insightful post! I am considering the UIC MS in Health Informatics program as well and was wondering if it was the right fit me. I work in Strategic Planning at a large academic medical center. I’m not interested in medical coding or data analysis, but instead using/integrating information systems to improve quality, evaluate/develop programs, and understanding population health. Is this the main focus of the program? Also, is the curriculum mainly case-based or textbook-q/a based? Any insight would be extremely helpful!!

    Thanks so much,


  • Hi Parvita, glad you liked the post!

    Given what you’ve stated, I would argue that UIC’s Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) is an ideal program for you. One of the major advantages of UIC’s MSHI program is that there is no one single focus; topics covered are very diverse. While there are classes that cover data analysis and coding topics, this is not the sole focus of the program. There is one data analysis course where you will do some diagramming and modeling, but you are not required to learn any programming language (i.e. SQL). I will note however, that a basic understanding of data analysis from this standpoint is pivotal to any core health informatics curriculum, regardless of school.

    Ideally, if you’re looking to stay in strategic planning, UIC’s MSHI program is a very good fit. In fact, in our most recent unit in my topics in informatics course, our professor and director was highlighting the importance of strategic planning and management in health informatics.

    If you are qualified for the program, I would encourage you to apply. It sounds like the UIC MSHI program is right up your alley. When comparing Health Informatics programs between schools, it is important to match your skills and goals with what the program offers. There are many discussions on LinkedIn about this, and I encourage you to seek additional information and ask questions.


  • Ryan, these days I am searching for this Masters program.
    Can you please tell me that, MHI and MHIM are two different programs?
    UIC gives you what like health informatics or health management or both?
    After doing this degree from UIC can I go for RHIA credential?

  • Hi Sonia!

    We offer 2 programs. The MSHI program does require that you have at least 2 years work experience in healthcare or IT. The Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management doesn’t require that you have that type of work experience. If you are interested in the RHIA, you would need to apply to the HIM program. Both programs require that you have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school. To learn more about the difference between the programs, you can listen to this webinar with Karen Patena, our Program Director for HIM: http://healthinformaticsdegree.uic.edu/difference-between-health-informatics-and-him/

    To learn more about both programs you can go to our website at: http://healthinformaticsdegree.uic.edu/
    If you would like to schedule a call to discuss our programs, you can contact me at 866/674-4842 x5041.

  • Are there programs in schools around the city of Kansas? I’m still confused to choose the level of health program after I graduate. Greetings from Kansas.

  • Hi Ryan,

    I have done masters in Bioinformatics from India and searching for a job here in USA. Is it wise for me to go with this course?

  • Hello Ryan,

    I feel motivated after reading about your experience with the online MSHI program. I was curious about what undergrad degree you have. I am interested in the Bachelor’s in HIM online program. Do you know about it? Will I be able to work full time while studying?

  • hello Ryan, thanks for all the information you provided. I’m applying for the MSHI program to start January 2016. can you tell me what do employers look for when hiring? is there a certification you have gotten after graduation? how did you get your work experience while in school?I work in the clinical laboratory , so I don’t have any experience with informatics more than what i use for my daily work. thanks

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