Finding an EMR Job Champion

Earlier this year I had the good fortune (and the support of my employer) to join the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), an organization that offers interest groups for every possible IT niche you can think of. I’ve attended a few of their health society events, and at every one I’m confronted with statistics and anecdotes surrounding the dearth of qualified healthcare IT professionals in the city and surrounding areas. Much attention at these events is also given to the fact that these professionals are needed now more than ever to help smaller physician practices and larger healthcare systems demonstrate Meaningful Use and achieve associated electronic medical record (EMR) adoption goals.

I’ve commented before on the disconnect between the increasing number of healthcare IT educational opportunities being created by the government and vendors’ willingness (or unwillingness, as the case may be) to hire fresh grads. EJ Fechenda of HIMSS JobMine posed a question related to this conundrum better than I ever could have: “With federal deadlines looming, healthcare organizations need to get moving and there are a lot of job seekers out there ready for the challenge. Are there organizations or companies willing to extend opportunities to these candidates? Is there a training or job-shadowing program that can be used as a best practice for other organizations to implement? Who are the champions already doing this or willing to lead the charge?”

I may have found a champion in Rich Wicker, HIMS Director at Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Wicker is also an adjunct professor at two HITECH-affiliated community colleges, teaching students who already have strong backgrounds in healthcare or IT the basics of process, analysis, redesign, installation and ongoing maintenance to prepare them for second careers in physician office EMR implementations.

He certainly seems to have a passion for the subject. “I’m devoted to the EMR,” he told me during a recent phone interview. “That’s why I started teaching, really, because I want to see that [adoption] happen so badly.”

He tells me his students are guardedly optimistic about their future job opportunities, which he believes will surge this summer alongside an expected increase in physician adoption of EMRs – six months before the deadline to qualify for Meaningful Use incentives.

As we discussed the state of the HIT job market, we both wondered if what type of organization might have a greater role to play in ensuring that graduate from programs like Wicker’s find jobs.

“We had to really battle our way to get one [software] copy from one EMR vendor,” he explains. “I wish they were more amenable to providing educational software/packages like Apple does throughout all their PCs. I know a few different schools have joined with a vendor. One place I know of is showing Vista, another is showing eClinicalWorks, and another partnered with a local hospital that happens to use Sage.

“I have a relatively limited view, but from what I can see, the vendors are not really engaged with the HITECH student development program. I think they’d probably rather do it themselves.”

“Here’s an idea that I came up with,” he adds. “I’ll throw out the RECs (Regional Extension Centers). That’s another entity that’s funded – it’s kind of their job to get the docs to convert. If they could partner with the colleges and the graduates to possibly divert some of their funding to supplementing the graduates’ income while they worked at a physician practice … So the physician, let’s say, for $5 an hour, they could hire a qualified, certified person. These people are pretty good, too. They know what it is to work. They’ve probably worked 10 or 20 years already, either in IT or in healthcare. So they’re mature employees and highly motivated. They would be great to go in and do a 6-month installation. I think it would be great for the physician if, for $5 an hour, you get somebody that would probably cost you $30 an hour somewhere else.

“Let’s say the student can get another $10 an hour supplemented from the REC or somehow through the government. So they get $15 an hour to go in there … they get four or five months of experience doing an installation and then the physician can make a decision … maybe they ultimately hire the person. That’s just a crazy idea that I had that seemed like the pieces are out there that kind of potentially could work. I sent it into the ONC a couple of days ago.”

Could the RECs have a bigger role to play in ensuring that HITECH graduates gain on-the-job experience and employment? I’d love to hear from any readers out there who may work for or with RECs . Is Wicker’s idea doable? Have we found our champion?

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

10 Comments

  • While I appreciate Mr. Wicker’s concept, I see a couple of pitfalls.

    My state’s REC might be an exception, but forward-thinking is not exactly their strong suit. They seem much more concerned with hooking providers up with their consulting services and preferred EMR vendors. About the only thing approaching what you talk about above is a community college program offering some sort of HIT certification. Unfortunately, it’s located in a very small town, and unlikely to draw much of a crowd.

    I don’t necessarily think providers are best served by recent graduates extolling the awesomeness of technology. I think you can take seasoned IT people, with real-world experience and immerse them in the HIT world with much better results.

  • Thank you Mr. Wicker!!! for your idea below!!! I am one of the HITECH grads desperately seeking a full time position. The vendors only want experienced people and are losing out on good and as you say “mature” workers!!!

    Please continue to seek support of us. So many who have spent hours and hours to get through the HITECH Grant program with no where to go. The government needs to step in and provide assistance in providing jobs once they have graduated.

  • Seasoned IT veterans are not cheap. And to be honest, these installations are less about IT savvy and more about training and supporting Docs on cloud bases SaaS. These installs should be light and function on thin clients. Wicker’s idea sounds viable. Get some students, a few of those seasoned IT veterans as managers and start converting these institutions.

    I can order a pizza online in 30 seconds, invest thousands on the stock market and get a new passport. But when I called a former Dr. for a copy for my own medical records, they wanted me to pay a “faxing fee” and wait so they can order them from their archive and fax them over.

  • Thank you Mr. Wicker for your advocacy and leadership.

    Your suggestion is a win/win solution for IT and health care professionals who have received HITECH grant sponsored training and the ONC grant funded RECs which have long backlogs of implementations.

    I hope the ONC will support your proposed model for employment opportunities. The experience gained through this model will enable many highly motivated and highly qualified workers to make valuable contributions to Health IT goals. It’s the right thing to do.

  • I’m a Project Manager for an REC. I am also an Adjuct Instructor for one of the Community Colleges in the HITECH College Consortia. Lastly, I created the website http://www.hitechworkforce.com, a free resource to help students enter the HIT work environment….so, I’m the perfect person to offer input.

    In short, REC models vary dramatically from REC to REC. So, developing a standard approach is not likely to work. Additionally, RECs are funded mostly by the Milestones they achieve for their providers. They don’t get funding for supporting Workforce Development (although Dr. Mostashari is really pushing it). My REC is supporting Workforce development, but mostly with Interns from 4-yr colleges. Hence, I saw the need and created the website http://www.hitechworkforce.com as free resource.

    What’s happened is that I have received some interesting feedback. Students still need some more help finding jobs. What I think needs to happen is a “Mentor/Protégé” model. That is, pairing students with industry professionals who can mentor them into the industry. I’ve passively done that…to success. I think that will work.

    As for practical internships, economies of scale will work the best. If there is a major implementation in the REC’s service area, then bringing in the students for a short period to do some of the work would immerse them in the environment. We have a major academic medical center doing a Allscripts implementation with tight deadlines. I’m trying to orchestrate our students with working on that project when they complete their 6 months. That’s a model that would have wide appeal.

    Se, those are my two suggestions. I’m going to leverage my website (and possibly my HIMSS connections) to develop the “Mentor/Protégé” model and run it through my website http://www.hitechworkforce.com. I’m also going to pilot the large-project Internship described above, work out the kinks and share it with other Colleges & RECs in the hopes they can replicate it.

    Stay tuned!

  • I think this is an important dialog and suggests there is ample room for many different models. Dr. Blumenthal’s article in New England Journal of Medicine (12/22/11) mentions there were 3,989 “grads” with 15,370 enrolled as of Sept 2011. (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr1112158 accessed 12/22/2011)
    Out of a total of 62 RECs, funded by ONC, there are only a small number with internship programs, Texas, Chicago, Arizona, So Florida to mention a few.. There is a critical need for opportunities to gain hands-on experience to enable those who have received training to secure full time employment in Health IT. These are individuals with deep IT or health care experience.
    A collaborative approach seems essential.

  • Sean,
    I really like your mentor/protege program. As a recent graduate from an EHR program I am finding it extremely difficult to find a job. I passed my HIT Pro exam and would love to get out there and put my knowledge/skill to use. I think a program like the one you are suggesting a great idea and it would give the graduates hands on experience which is what is needed.

  • I have a follow-up comment on the “mentor/protege program” I mentioned earlier. I have been in discussions with HIMSS Professional Development. They are actually working on developing this program. I will be speaking with them on this next week and will post an update when I can.

  • Sean,
    Do let us know how it goes and what we can do to help. My heart really does go out to those who get the extra education anticipating a great job and then don’t have any options. I’d love to find more ways to help these people.

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