Like AHIMA’s Founder Grace Whiting Myers, AHIMA’s Incoming Board President Diann H. Smith, MS, RHIA, CHP, FAHIMA, says her career and passion for health information management (HIM) was sparked by her love of reading and time spent in libraries. While Myers worked in a medical library at Massachusetts General Hospital, Smith’s first job was in a patient library at a Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Waco, TX.
Though more than a century separates the careers of these two dedicated women, Smith is just as likely to inspire younger generations of HIM professionals as Myers. Smith has spent over 35 years
in HIM, in various healthcare settings including long-term acute care, behavioral health, acute care, and on the vendor side as a senior project manager.
Smith has held leadership positions in corporate roles as well as within organizations she volunteers for, including AHIMA, state and local HIM associations, her sorority, and as a board member for the American Cancer Society. In that time, Smith said, she has taken colleagues under her wing and mentored them to become leaders in their chosen profession.
“I have my leaders here and they use the things I’ve taught them and I just have to laugh. Sometimes I think ‘What have I created?’ I see them using techniques in relationships with other people to collaborate and get results,” Smith said.
When Smith starts working with a new group of people, such as in her current role of vice president of health information management services and clinical documentation improvement at Texas Health Resources, one of her first priorities is getting to know everyone she’ll be working with.
“I encourage leaders to build collaborative relationships,” Smith said. “You need to do that before you need something. If there’s even a slightest touchpoint with your area, make it your business to know who that’s impacting. Reach out to discover their needs and start the process of educating them about what you can bring to the table. That’s how you can influence involvement in future projects.”
Smith wants to encourage young leaders wherever she finds them. For instance, she recently attended a back to school rally in her community in Arlington, TX, when she found herself chatting with a high school senior volunteering there.
“I told her ‘You know what. One of the things I want you to start thinking about is when other people see problems, you should see opportunity—and seize it. Go for it—offer a solution. You cannot hold back. You have to have the courage to step forward and take the initiative,’” Smith said.
This is an underlying theme in Smith’s life—seeing problems as opportunities—and one she plans to explore when she delivers the Incoming President Address at Tuesday morning’s AHIMA Convention General Session, as well as during her year-long term as AHIMA Board of Directors’ chair and president.
“I want to be member focused. I want members to really own and believe that they have the power to influence and to make changes, wherever they are in their career. Wherever they are in their organization. I want people to be inspired to do something,” Smith said.
Another theme of Smith’s convention speech will be the role mentors can play throughout a person’s career. One of Smith’s mentors was Sue Russell, an HIM director who hired Smith for her first job as a department secretary while she was a student. Russell took Smith to local HIM association meetings in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX, area and was the one who first encouraged Smith to run for elected volunteer positions.
Smith was convinced she couldn’t win, but Russell told her it wasn’t about winning—running for an office is more about letting people know what you have to offer.
“So I ran for treasurer of the local association and I won. I know I won because of Sue. She endorsed me and inspired me give back to the profession and the community,” Smith said. “I’ve been volunteering ever since. It’s very rewarding and, again, it’s another opportunity to learn to build relationships and develop leadership skills.”
Smith describes herself, at that time, as young and impressionable. She was raised in the small town of Golinda, TX, which had only about 300 people. But that early experience taught her a lot.
“I learned how to put meetings together, how to talk to people, how to influence people to volunteer or run for office or help with a specific project when they couldn’t commit to a big project,” she said. “We all can make a difference.”