By Brian Benedetti, Director of Marketing & Communications
Students in a new Health Information Technology program at Pierce College are learning the skills they’ll need to maintain the massive databases that hospitals and healthcare systems are building under a federal mandate that providers implement electronic health records by 2014.
This fall, about 40 students are in the health informatics program, which kicked off in December funded by an $11,775,297 federal grant awarded in October 2012 to a consortium of nine community colleges, workforce, industry and labor partners. Donna Moran, the program lead, says the grant’s purpose is to improve the ability of community colleges to deliver programs in health information technology (HIT).
Pierce’s share of the award is $571,459. In exchange for that Pierce has created curriculum leading to a certificate in healthcare database management. That’s one year of coursework, but Moran says students going through all of Pierce’s prerequisites, core curriculum and related instruction will spend two years and come out with an associate degree in Health Informatics and Integrated Technology.
Health database management is a field with great prospects for employment, says Moran. Some 291,325 physicians and 3,880 hospitals nationwide have made the switch to electronic medical records, according to government data released this year. Many more are hurrying to convert before federal penalties start in 2014 for those still using paper records.
Pierce has an advisory board that includes representatives from Multicare Health System, Sound Physicians, Madigan Army Medical Center and Western State Hospital. They have helped in building out the degree program, Moran said. They also have promised to help with internships.
“Nobody can promise jobs, but as much as possible, they’ve agreed to help with that, too,” she said.
The program can still use more students and is especially targeting veterans and people whose jobs have been sent overseas. Pierce is working closely with Worksource.
The degree combines coursework in computer science, (including database systems, structured query language (SQL) and networks) with specialized instruction on electronic medical records, medical terminology, the healthcare environment, role of healthcare professionals, federal privacy laws and government regulations.
Moran says some students come with computer skills, but others come in cold. The HIT program instructors and staff are prepared to help both types of students be successful.
Holly Emerson is one of the latter. She is a registered nurse who’d worked for the same doctor for 35 years. When he retired she saw an opportunity to do something different.
She started the program in January and has found the classes both challenging and interesting
“The instructors are all very helpful and willing to go the extra mile so that you learn what you need to succeed,” she said. “And the other students are helpful and willing to teach you what they know.
“Not having grown up with computers, it’s been a steep learning curve, but if I can learn it at my age, anybody can. And it’s exciting to learn new things.”