Incoming Board President Stresses Leadership and Mentoring

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

Diann H. Smith, MS, RHIA, CHP, FAHIMA

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.

Leadership Focused

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.

Smith with her husband, Eugene

“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.

Early Boosters

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.”

9 Comments

  1. Diann hired me for my first HIM job as Coder. Her passion for creating training opportunities for students and recent graduates has touched so many lives. Her enthusiasm for volunteering and political advocacy has advanced our profession and had a profound affect on HIM professionals fortunate enough to work with her, myself included. I look forward to the polarizing affect she is sure to have on the future of AHIMA.

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    • Thank you Jodie. I love the health care profession and helping others reach their career goals.

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      • when I decided to go back to school June 2014, my career of choice was to earn an associate in HIM of applied science. I have tried for 24yrs to finish school but I was trying to get my kids (who are adults now 28 & 17-son, 23 & 22-daughters)through high school and college; I stated I want to earn my RHIM, CCS, and certified auditor.
        I’ve achieved my 1st goal which was my RHIT and I was so happy going across the stage to receive my diploma. Once I started applying for jobs I seen that everyone want’s you to be certified RHIT employee’s, I have yet to find a job in my career of choice, I have been trying to get a mentor but on the ahima page it is making me sign up as a mentor instead of then assisting me to find a Mentor. All I want now is to find a job or someone who can allow me to start in a apprenticeship on a job where I can earn money and learn at the same time. Or an entry-level position, I am hungry to start a coding specialist but need to take the certification and future after landing a job I want to take EMR audit
        Please advise how I can at least get my feet in the door, I am finding myself crying because spending 2 yrs in school achieving a degree to now not finding a job. How I ever gain a job when no one will give you a chance.

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        • Hello
          Lisa Renea Johnson-Cole, I will be happy to serve as your mentor. My contact information is provided with my post. Also see if you are able to submit your problem signing up for mentor to the AHIMA help desk.

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  2. I had the pleasure of going to school with Diann and she gave me the contact for my first job out of school. Always a great mentor. Have a great year Diann.

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  3. I am glad to hear stories about people who lift you up and guide you to be all you can be. I am inspired by these stories.

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  4. This story was inspiring I wish more people were willing to open the door to new graduates and not so quick to throw the phrase out “not hired due to lack of experience”. I too am a new graduate of a medical coding program with an AHIMA CCA certification but no one wants to tire me, I have loads of other clinical and business experience, and the desire to learn more and grow in an HIM career but still missing something. I am very dishearten that I have made the wrong choices in a career and have had my whole life turned upside down. Does anyone have advice on which way I can turn to try and get back on a progressive track? I need guidance.

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  5. Iam a senior. Received my RHIT many years ago in 1979.
    I had many rewarding jobs afterwards in various jobs associated with the education and training I received .
    Now I would like to reactivate my credentials and membership.
    Help!

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  6. I am concerned about the number of medical coding jobs going overseas. I understand that under our current HIPPA laws in the U.S. hospitals and other medical care providers are not required to tell their patients that their private health information is going overseas. Consequently, this also seems to be driving current medical coding salaries down. What is AHIMA planning on doing about this current situation in regard to lobbying etc or are they planning on doing anything at all?
    Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

    Sincerely
    Kathleen Deaton RHIA, CCS

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