Summit Looks to Veterans for Next Generation of HIM Professionals

Education, apprenticeships, and employer commitment are three ways the industry can break down barriers between healthcare employers and veterans and bolster the HIM workforce, said participants in the Healthcare Forward summit presented by AHIMA and the AHIMA Foundation in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

The summit brought together public and private stakeholders to focus on training and developing a workforce of veterans to fill health information management (HIM) and health information technology (HIT) roles, particularly in rural areas. Stakeholders included representatives of healthcare providers and vendors, as well as federal agencies such as the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

The aim was to identify how veterans can fill existing workforce gaps in HIM/HIT roles in rural areas, as well as to understand educational gaps between the skills veterans have already attained in service and those needed for HIM/HIT positions.

AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon signs documentation with James Foti (left) and Joseph Jenkins.

Jobs Start with Education

Speaker Pamela Tate, president and CEO of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, discussed why colleges and employers should invest in veterans, the challenges veterans face, and why education matters to this population.

“Veterans have incredible skills that can contribute to enhanced performance in the workplace…they can be entrepreneurial, are used to transferring skills and to working in dynamic and uncertain environments; they have team-building skills and cross-cultural experience,” Tate said. “It’s important for this country to use these veterans’ skills and knowledge… [they] really add to the workplace.”

Because it’s often difficult to translate skills learned in the military to civilian corporate life, many veterans struggle to find work. Particularly, veterans age 18 to 34 have high rates of poverty and unemployment, she said. “This is a serious problem; it’s a problem that education can address,” Tate said. “HIM and HIT are areas that could help veterans move out of poverty.”

But in addition to joining the workforce, veterans must understand the need for education as well. Tate quoted statistics that showed those veterans who had bachelor’s degrees or higher only were less likely to be unemployed than those with less education. “This does argue for a focus on getting the veteran immediately after transitioning [from the military] and building their skills, attracting and retaining them in education, and connecting them to the kind of careers we are talking about today,” she said.

Veterans also need help navigating the higher education environment, converting their military knowledge to college credit, and connecting to employers, Tate said. “They need a bridge to help them know about the HIM industry. These may be jobs they don’t even know about,” Tate said. “There’s a huge interest in healthcare, but people don’t know what to ask for within it. Few people know all the careers in healthcare.”

During the summit, AHIMA announced the creation of a Veterans Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance for veterans or veterans’ spouses who have been accepted into an accredited HIM program. Applications close Sept. 6, and the $10,000 scholarship will be presented during AHIMA’s Annual Convention and Exhibit in October.

 

A New Path: Apprenticeship

Speaker James Foti, deputy administrator of the Office of Apprenticeship in the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) at the US Department of Labor (DoL), discussed the value of apprenticeship. The DoL promotes a systematic training approach, using what it calls Registered Apprenticeships, to “tie theory into practical work exposure,” Foti said.

Apprenticeships allow people to learn high-demand skills outside the university environment so they can build a personal track record of work experience. “Just education is not enough. The practical skills are very valuable,” he said. For employers, there are also benefits—apprenticeships can help them build their staff, create employee loyalty, and encourage mentoring.

Foti and Joseph Jenkins, ETA education and outreach team leader, presented AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, with the DoL’s certification for AHIMA’s national guidelines for apprenticeship standards. The guidelines will help pave the way for individuals to get experience in HIM through paid apprenticeships offered by prospective employers that will offer the program through the ETA. The AHIMA guidelines encompass apprenticeship roles for hospital coders, clinical documentation improvement specialists, HIM business analysts, and HIM data analysts.

 

Making the Transition

Apprenticeships are important, but success in hiring and retaining veteran employees requires long-term change in hiring practices, said Michele Deverich, executive director of Hero Health Hire (H3), a coalition of healthcare employers promoting the hiring of “wounded warriors,” and national vice president of Magellan Health Services. “We have to make it easier for veterans to find employment. We have to make it more personal,” Deverich said. It is also important to work with individual veterans to help them see where their skills might fit into a healthcare setting. “They are struggling to make sense of [the work] they did in the military and how that could possibly translate,” she said.

Deverich recommended that employers consider hiring veterans based on their aptitude and skills, not just experience. H3 is developing best practices that can be shared among its employer partners to make a veteran hiring program a success, she said.

 

12 Comments

  1. Finally, the HIM field is recognizing Veterans such as I. Even though the place where I work hired me, I am in an internships or on-the-job-training. I did go back to college to upgrade my skills in the medical field and I was lucky that my Department Head recommended me for a coding position for on the job training which I was looking for. If it was not also, for the leadership of the supervisor of all the hospitals in this medical care system and my supervisor in asking HIM Department Head at Devry University for someone who is a quick learner to be a DRG coder.
    In otherwords, I am a Retired War Veteran, who updated her skills in the field, and made an impression received a job which I love.

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  2. My email was incorrect the first time I commented.

    I am an Inpatient Coder and a member of AHIMA. I was a Medical Specialist (91B) in the U.S. Army for almost 8 years. I am really proud of my service and what I have accomplished and glad to see that there is more attention to the veterans and the workforce. So many times, I read about veterans being unemployed and homeless and it saddens me to think about everything they have done and been thru for their country and end up that way. Even serving in peacetime, you still have to endure the hardships of military.

    Sincerely,
    Angela

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  3. I was an 88H, Cargo Specialist and performed many HR functions for the Army. I am a Veteran and now a Manager of a Health Information Management Department. Most of my key skills (leadership, teambuilding, survival skills) that I learned from the U.S. Army have proven to be invaluable to the position I currently hold and needed in the workplace. I would love to see more Veterans enter the HIM career path! Some education is vital as so many aspects are changing.

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  4. Where can I find the application for the Veterans Scholarship Program?

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  5. There may be more military veterans in the HIM profession than you are aware of. I am a RHIT who was in the Army over 40 years ago. I was able to go to college on the G.I. bill. My department head is a RHIA and has other post-graduate credentials also obtained with the help of the G.I. bill. It would be interesting to know how many veterans are HIM professionals.

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  6. I am a disabled veteran, I did my twenty years retired, I was a military police (MAC) while on active duty. After I retired I was retrained by the VA and just graduated from an AHIMA approved HIM program. Now I keep applying for positions and still can not get a position in this field with a degree? What else can I do?

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  7. How do I take advantage of this program in my area.

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  8. I am a USMC Veteran and have a RHIA credential – I didnt get my experience through the GI Bill as too much time had passed. I have been thinking about getting my Masters – but am not sure that is the way to go. As it is a costly investment and I am still paying on my Bachelors – the field is changing rapidly – and it is hard to keep up without specializing in one area – just like the doctors do.

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  9. Is there anything in place to help those that are trying to get advanced degrees but dont have a high paying job?

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  10. Glad to see I’m not the only one out there! It sure feels like it. I am a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. I was able to get my AA while on duty and BS while still in reserve status. I’m now using my post-9/11 GI bill to get my Master’s in HIM through the College of Saint Scholastica. I will sit for the RHIA next summer.

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  11. HI Angela – keep trying – it took me awhile to land a job also. Network with others you know – thats how I got my current job (someone I knew worked in a hospital and let me know they had an opening for RHIT – I have my RHIA). Apply at small rural hospitals – you will get to wear many hats, and many applicants are not willing to work in rural areas. Apply at the VA – they need people with your skills and also Vets have preference for hiring. Also try at prisons – will degrade your skills though as they dont do most of what is done in the private sector. I worked in a prison for 14.5 years – thats where I found out about the RHIT program through a co-worker. If you need to get some work experience – apply for medical records clerk or some other job that will get your foot in the door. Hospital would be best as most want you to have “acute record” experience. That was my obstacle. Another possibility – create a action plan.
    and do a skills accessment – compare your current skills to a job you want and see where you may need to upgrade your skill level in what areas – or obtain a new skill. Computer skills are a must in the Electronic Record Environment.
    Goal – what you want to accomplish
    Time Frame
    Obstacles you need to overcome
    How you will overcome them.
    Also go to AHIMA job web site – look at the jobs available Also contact Stern and Associates – Maureen – She may be able to help you.
    Endeavor to persevere – You can do it – just takes time.

    Good Luck.

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