Let’s Get Women Excited About Health IT

by Sarah Sample-Reif on November 9, 2017

one of the women who works in health itHealth IT marries head and heart—that is, the technology to improve operations and patient outcomes with the reward that comes from knowing that your work helps people. Maybe that’s a message we need to make clear if we want to encourage more girls and women to enter our field.

A case in point is Alicia Chong Rodriguez, a graduate student at MIT who founded a startup that uses wearable sensor technology to monitor women at risk of heart disease. She told MIT News that she had always been interested in technology, but got really excited when she realized that she could use technology to solve world problems.

From Nursing to Health IT

Many women currently working in healthcare IT make the transition from nursing, often as the result of getting involved in the rollout of a new application. I discussed this career path in a previous post, Influential Women in Health IT: Their Views. The IT role allows them to use their expertise in patient care while opening up new career opportunities.

From the opposite point of view, health IT can be a way for those who are not drawn to nursing to still play a rewarding role with patients.

Susan Clark, president of SD Clark Consulting, a firm that focuses on the implementation and support of Medicare incentive payment systems, says, “If you don’t want to be a hands-on caregiver, this is your opportunity to impact how patients are taken care of or to make the whole system work better.”

Clark points out that STEM can seem sterile or abstract to some. Her message is, “It’s not just a computer job, it’s a people job. And we can really help people in our own way.”

Spreading the Word About Health IT

Judy McCarthy, chief technology director and information security officer of National Jewish Health, says that the growth of the health informatics profession has helped increase overall awareness of health IT. In general, she thinks it’s difficult for women with clinical roles to move to the IT side. However, “If someone is in an informatics role, they are working closely with users and physicians to promote the adoption of EMR and helping users understand how to use it. That’s a natural progression for a nurse or a lab tech.”

Women in health IT management roles can find ways to help with that progression. For example, Sharon Kirby, vice president and CNIO of Centura Health, created a new position of informatics coordinator to allow nurses to move to IT.

In this job, half of the time is spent as a bedside nurse. In the other half, the informatics coordinator is mentored by the hospital’s informaticist. Once the person has 1,000 hours of informatics work, she can sit for the exam to become board-certified in nursing informatics.

“It’s ideal,” Kirby says. “The basis for a good informaticist is clinical experience, and leadership experience is very beneficial. Training them in informatics takes time, but you can always layer that on top.”

Mentors Matter

Mentoring—from men and other women—is an important vehicle for sharing the challenges and rewards of this profession with younger women.

Women interested in the field shouldn’t wait for a mentor to appear. Sherri Hess, CNIO of Banner Health, advises young women to get involved in societies such as HMS or the American Nursing Informatics Association. LinkedIn is another good resource, she thinks.

“Most people on LinkedIn are interested in connecting,” she says. And it’s possible to get indirect mentoring by following someone, reading what they write and seeing them speak at conferences.

Kirby of Centura Health has approached potential mentors directly over the years. “I’ll look them up, contact them, and tell them why I admire them and, what I’d like to learn from them. I’ve never had one say no, although some are more forthcoming than others,” she says.

Each of these influential women stressed how important it was to them to reach out to women to help them see how exciting this field is by participating in events for girls in high school and college, as well as professional societies.

Hess said she’d like to see more coordination or even amalgamation among them. She attends multiple events promoting women in leadership. “It’s all about the numbers,” she says. “If we could get them together, it would help us.”

“We’re in a world of constant change and health IT is no different. There are so many new approaches to medicine, and how technology can support that is so exciting,” says McCarthy.

We need to remember to convey our excitement about our profession to inspire the next generation.​

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