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.