My view on HIT (or other technical) certifications

On July 14th I conducted a seminar on How Meaningful Use Impacts Healthcare Data Management and IT Professionals. It was pretty popular and I got lots of questions at the event and many afterwards as well. One of the questions that kept coming up over and over again was about how to enter the healthcare IT field. One really good question was about certification and what i thought about it — here was the gist of the query:

Since you have tremendous knowledge of the HIT environment, what do you say is the general benefit of attaining various IT related certifications aimed specifically at HIT.  For instance, although I have graduate degrees, I am a relative latecomer to HIT.  I keep reading of RHIA, CISSP, CISM, CPHIMS, CHPS, etc. and wonder if they have real value in the world of HIT.  As an aside, I am trying to quantify a broad general IT experience into marketable certifications by obtaining A+, N+, and SEC+ in the short order.  I have played with the idea of obtaining PMP since I do quite a bit of project directed activity.

Basically, the questioner asks “is it worth getting certifications?” I’m not responding below to any specific certifications but the broad idea of any technical certification.

My take on HIT (or any IT) certifications is that they will never do any harm — but you won’t get a job because you have a certification. In my years as a software engineer, technical manager, and technical executive I’ve interviewed and hired hundreds of people for many IT- and healthcare-related positions and I can’t remember one time when I hired a person because of a certification.

The reason why certifications aren’t held in very high regard by practitioners like myself is that you can pass a test (any test) without actually having the requisite knowledge necessary to perform those same tasks in the real world. Certifications don’t guarantee any knowledge but do provide a modicum of evidence of basic understanding of a subject matter. I think of it more as a low-water mark and not real expertise or experience — that can only come with actual projects under your belt.

My simple view of the world is that you need certifications on your resume if you lack experience or need to make yourself stand out; if you have experience in a field that will speak for itself and you won’t need the certifications. Expertise and experience are really what employers are looking for and they are struggling to get enough information from prospective employees and that’s why they put the certifications requirements in job postings; what we’ve found, though, is that certifications don’t imply expertise and they certainly don’t imply experience or the ability to do any particular job in a meaningful way.

I recommend employers not require certifications in their job postings — it’s more likely that you’ll lose qualified and experienced applicants rather than gain them. That’s because the more experience and expertise a person has the less likely they are to actually have professional certifications (because they don’t need them).

So, what’s the answer to the question “is it worth getting certifications?” — my advice is that if you have the time and money to get certified don’t give up the opportunity. Go ahead and get it, it never hurts. If you’re not an expert in healthcare IT, here are some ideas that could get you started in our field:

  • If you’ve got experience running or working in a medical office or you’re an experienced project manager you can apply for an implementation specialist or assistant at almost any healthcare IT firm like an EMR or EHR vendor, consulting firm, or systems integrator. The thing to keep in mind is that every customer that buys an EMR needs to have it installed and deployed and that’s done by implementation folks. There is a shortage of people that can take complex products like EHRs and EMRs live.
  • If you have a little or a lot of general IT experience but no healthcare IT experience you can start by working in a technical support or training capacity. You would get the opportunity to learn new products and use your IT experience to provide customer service, support, and training talent.
  • If you’re interested in the software side you can think of being a tester of software; vendors need good quality assurance and configuration management personnel and that’s a great place to begin your healthcare IT career.
  • If you’re good at writing, consider joining the documentation team for creating training materials, videos, screencasts, or other related artifacts necessary to teach people how to use healthcare IT.
  • If you’re a developer interested in writing software but you’re not experienced in healthcare, join one of the many open source projects that are out there building open source EMRs, EHRs, PHRs, and related tools. Open source is a great way to join a community of people willing to help you if you’re willing to give back to them, too.
  • If you’re an integration specialist (you know EAI, EDI, EII, ETL, ESBs, or other integration techniques) start to learn HL7, CCR, and CCD and you can write your own ticket almost anywhere. The majority of healthcare problems in the IT arena are integration and deployment problems so if you know scripting and HL7 you’re good to go.

What if you can’t find a job because you don’t have enough experience and no one will hire you due to lack of experience? Well, then find one or more open source projects where you can help with documentation, training materials preparation, quality assurance, software code, design, configuration management, or a host of other tasks. By working on an open source project you will get the experience you need without having to be hired by someone. Then, you can use that on your resume to show that you’ve got capabilities because projective employers can actually download and see what you’ve done.

Don’t forget, if you’re looking for EMR and EHR buying advice check out my free resources.

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30 thoughts on “My view on HIT (or other technical) certifications

  1. I think the thing to remember is that HIT has a lot of similarities to any other field. That means that, like you said, experience will trump certifications every time, but someone with no experience and every certification will have an advantage over someone with no experience and no certification.

  2. I agree with your article and like it.I think the thing to remember is that HIT has a lot of similarities to any other field. That means that, like you said, experience will trump certifications every time.Thanks for sharing this article with us.

  3. Hi Shahid,

    Thanks for the great advice! I worked as a enterprise software consultant doing ESB, EAI and SOA for 3 past years. I get interested in HIT a year ago. Since I don't have the experience in HIT, I decided to obtain a professional masters degree in Health Informatics to equip myself with enough domain knowledge in Healthcare.

    Do you think it is more effective for me to find a job in the healthcare field (as you described above) than to go back to school for a degree?

    THANKS!

    1. Yes, Jerry, I believe getting a job that will give you experience (especially in a technical capacity) will likely trump any degree. If you're more project or business-focused where titles matter then the degree will be helpful. For example, getting a PMP certification may help for project management over a degree.

  4. .I think the thing to remember is that HIT has a lot of similarities to any other field. That means that, like you said, experience will trump certifications every time.Thanks ………………

  5. Experience will trump certifications every time, but someone with no experience and every certification will have an advantage over someone with no experience and no certification.

  6. If you're experienced and running or working in a medical office you can apply for an implementation specialist or assistant at almost any healthcare IT firm like an EMR or EHR vendor, consulting firm, or systems integrator. The only thing to keep in mind is that every customer that buys an EMR needs to have it installed and deployed and that’s done by implementation folks.

  7. If you’re an integration specialist you can write your own ticket almost anywhere. The majority of healthcare problems in the IT arena are integration and deployment problems so if you know scripting and HL7 you’re good to go.

  8. I get interested in HIT a year ago. Since I don’t have the experience
    in HIT, I decided to obtain a professional masters degree in Health
    Informatics to equip myself with enough domain knowledge in Healthcare.

  9. If you’ve got experience running or working in a medical office or you’re an experienced project manager you can apply for an implementation specialist or assistant at almost any healthcare IT firm.

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