How to get a job in healthcare IT when you don’t have specific experience

I get questions from students and career changers who want to enter the healthcare IT field routinely and I enjoy replying privately to help out where I can. One question I received a few days ago is especially common so I thought I’d provide an answer publicly:

I am currently a student at [a healthcare IT training program].  This is a career change for me … my only medical experience is as a patient.

The universal problem: Can’t get the job because I don’t have the experience. Have the training how do I get the experience if I can’t get the job? I would like to tackle this issue while I’m still in training.

This student is doing a smart thing – asking for advice before graduation. Here is some specific guidance:

  • Get an internship or volunteer at a local hospital or hospice. You’ll want to become intimately familiar with the patient management process (admits, discharges, and transfers along with data and chart management) and try to get familiar with the clinical process (the actual care side). If you know the workflows your IT knowledge will be useful; if you only IT but not the workflows then you’ll be less useful.
  • Get a consulting or contractor job at a local medical practice. Almost all physician offices have some need for IT support and almost everyone knows at least one independent doctor. Even if you want a job at a hospital, working for a physician office for a little while will get you some relevant experience. If you’re really good at general IT it should be easy to find a physician office job with a reference.
  • Download, install, and get familiar with open source hospital information systems (like VA’s VistA) or physician practice management systems (like ClearHealth, OpenEMR, OpenMRS, etc.). The idea is to be able to demonstrate that you know what these various systems are, how they work, and that your knowledge will be applicable from one system to another.
  • If you’re a programmer, add some code and become a contributor to an open source healthcare IT project with new features, bug fixes, etc.. This will allow you to showcase your expertise with real code.
  • If you’re not a programmer, you can still contribute by improving documentation and training materials. Again, the idea is to show your work to a prospective employer.
  • Find out where user groups for various IT systems (like Epic, Cerner, eClinicalWorks, etc.) are meeting and go to the meetings. Join to learn first but then offer your expertise to the various users for areas that you know and tell everyone you’re looking for a job.
  • Search for mailing lists and forums where various IT systems (again, like Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, Misys, etc.) are being discussed and lurk for a little while but start to contribute as quickly you can. At the end of your messages, add a signature indicating you’re looking for a job.

If you’ve got any suggestions to share, please add them here so we can help each other.

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12 thoughts on “How to get a job in healthcare IT when you don’t have specific experience

  1. Thanks for this advice. Very useful. Also interesting that you don’t even mention HIMSS.

    There is an irony that in a world where everybody says ‘patient-centric’ in every phrase, the fact that someone is a patient is mentioned with ‘just a patient’. Patients with highly analytical minds and IT experience should be looked for. Yeah, processes might need to change and job specs too and the way IT people are hired…

    Coming from Romania ten years ago, I found the IT field to be much more open to talent than healthcare IT is now. But I guess it’s not ten years ago anymore.  

  2. Your
    advice is well taken.  The suggestions
    you’ve made are specific and doable and I’ve begun to implement them.    Joining
    HIMSS has also provided a wealth of information and opportunity.  The trick now is being able to manage all of
    this data

  3. Maybe just a small tweak to Shahid’s point:  Plug into the evolving IT + Healthcare IT lovefest going on in every major metropolitan area.  The IT people-networks are well-defined.  The HealthIT side is exploding.  Get involved — somewhere, doing something.  If you simply have the  desire, you can get involved.

  4. Great advice – I would also add – Join and become active in HIMSS – there are so many free resources for learning and so many thought leaders to network with!

  5. Great advice and resources to consider. I am PhD student with focus in Information Assurance and Security and Clinical Informatics. Great advice to consider in the post. Obtaining the vendor certs without being sponsored through a company seems to be another block in getting the experience needed for some jobs.

  6. Sallyhealthcaretech


    Thank you for the suggestions, I am a techie but with no tech experience in the medical field, this was very helpful.

  7. Sir,
    Thanks for the post … But am from clinical side with Post Graduation in Healthcare Administration… Could you help us in getting into Healthcare Informatics as we don’t have any basic idea in coding, programming or anything like that…Thank you.

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