IT Jobs Abound in Healthcare, but the Transition to Healthcare IT Isn’t an Easy One
What is healthcare IT? While the term is widely used, ask the speaker to define it and the answer is unlikely to be simple. Some may use the phrase to simply refer to the maintenance of computers in hospitals, clinics, and private practices, but those working within the industry know the phrase “healthcare IT” encompasses a lot more than basic tech support. From the ICD-10 transition to the implementation and meaningful use of EHR systems, “healthcare IT” refers to the array of technologies designed to store, share, and analyze health information. One might add that health IT also refers to the expertise required to develop, implement, and maintain those technologies. The definition may not be exact, but one thing is certain – IT job opportunities abound in healthcare.
The Healthcare IT Boom
Opinions may vary on the state of the US economy, but one thing analysts agree on is the positive outlook for the healthcare industry. Aging Baby Boomers and a growing population mean the need for healthcare is increasing, and transformative legislation means it’s easier than ever to gain access to care. One way the industry will handle the increased demand is by utilizing electronic health records (EHR) for enhanced efficiency. Legislated deadlines around the implementation and meaningful use of EHR systems are just one reason many healthcare organizations are scrambling to find healthcare IT assistance.
There’s no doubt healthcare as an industry needs significant IT help, but that doesn’t mean IT jobs are for the taking. On the contrary, healthcare organizations may have a number of IT job opportunities available, but the help they seek is highly specialized. As a result, IT professionals hoping to transition into health IT are likely to find themselves wondering, “How can I gain experience in healthcare IT if all the health IT jobs require experience?”
The Crossroads of IT and Healthcare
The ideal healthcare IT professionals have a solid understanding of both IT and healthcare. Sometimes it happens organically – the nurse who takes an interest in a specific Epic module, the practice manager who is called upon to provide tech support, or the computer science major who volunteers on medical missions. Other times it’s learned in school – IT professionals enrolling in healthcare IT training programs or pursuing health IT certifications. The government, recognizing the increased demand for healthcare IT talent, has funded several programs for healthcare IT certifications, but the problem with this path is it doesn’t provide experience. The reality is no training program can compete with hands-on experience, and as those seeking IT jobs in healthcare know – experience is almost always mandatory.
So perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “How can I get a job in healthcare IT?” but rather, “How can I get experience in healthcare IT?” Because once IT professionals have healthcare experience, they will have more IT job opportunities than they can reasonably accept.
Transitioning to Healthcare IT
While no amount of research can replace experience, professionals seeking IT job opportunities in healthcare must be able to speak the language of the industry. This means being fluent in clinical terms as well as technical terms, as they relate to healthcare. Short of a medical education, the best way to learn about the industry is to start reading. Subscribe to newsletters, read blogs, follow related legislation, and monitor healthcare headlines. Websites such as healthIT.gov, HIMSS.org, and HealthcareITnews.com are great resources, but IT professionals shouldn’t limit their education to healthcare IT. They should also seek out the perspectives of clinicians, patients, and even insurance providers in order to gain the holistic view necessary to understand the technical needs of the industry.
Healthcare IT certifications and training programs alone will not lead to IT jobs in healthcare. However, participating in these programs may lead to internship or volunteer opportunities, or at least networking. The teachers of such programs may prove to be valuable mentors in the pursuit of IT and healthcare knowledge. Before choosing a program, research it thoroughly, paying specific attention to the percentage of program participants who have successfully found IT jobs in healthcare.
Professionals pursuing IT jobs in healthcare should consider reaching out to a health IT recruiter. Be prepared that the recruiter may not be able to help immediately; after all, their primary goal is to deliver the best candidates to client healthcare organizations, and the best candidate is usually one with experience. However, the recruiter is still likely to place the resume in their database, and when they are working with a client who perhaps cannot pay the rate commanded by an experienced health IT professional, they may call upon the inexperienced candidate for the job.
Call it “settling for less” or “paying your dues,” but the fact is, even highly skilled IT professionals may have to accept less money in order to gain experience in healthcare IT. As mentioned above, some organizations simply can’t afford to pay for the level of experience they’d prefer, so they may be willing to accept an IT professional without healthcare IT experience. Working for less may not be an option for some IT job seekers, but if they can afford to take a lower rate for even as little as six months, the experience they gain will allow them to write their own paycheck going forward.
While the definition of “healthcare IT” continues to evolve, one thing remains constant – the demand for skilled professionals who understand both IT and healthcare. IT job opportunities in healthcare are everywhere, and yet getting hired isn’t as easy as it might seem. IT professionals hoping to transition into the growing healthcare industry have several obstacles to overcome, primarily their own lack of experience. Research, training programs, and connecting with recruiters can help IT job seekers in their quest to gain health IT experience, but it may come down to taking less money or even volunteering in order to break into this highly specialized field. Not everyone will succeed, but those who can successfully transition into health IT jobs will never lack for employment.