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.