Advice for Getting a Doctoral Degree in HIM Without Losing Your Mind

Health information management (HIM) professionals considering getting a doctorate degree should be prepared for stress, hard work, the need to develop a thick skin, and possibly even the shedding of some tears. In her presentation, “So You Want to Get a PhD? The Fascination, Realisms, and Outcomes of Pursing a Doctoral Degree,” Lisa Campbell, PhD, CCS, CCS-P, CDIP, shared details of her humorous—and often brutally honest—journey in higher education.

Her presentation, delivered Wednesday in Chicago at AHIMA’s Assembly on Education, offered encouragement to HIM professionals interested in boosting their income potential, teaching other HIM students, or just expanding the scope of their HIM expertise with a doctoral degree.

Campbell’s HIM path began when she started working as a medical assistant turned coder. When she realized she wanted to increase her earning potential, she says she walked into her employer’s human resources department and asked, “What can I do to make more money?” An HR rep told her, “Go get your PhD.”

She did some research and picked a PhD program in healthcare administration that allowed her to transfer 40 hours of undergraduate credit. After detailing some of her struggles, Campbell shared the following advice to potential doctoral students:

  • Before you apply to a program, start thinking about possible topics for your thesis/dissertation. Doing this allowed Campbell to collect research from HIM practitioners before she even began classes.
  • Make sure that the time is right for you to start a PhD program, and don’t be afraid to take a year or more off from your studies if your life, finances, or work circumstances are in flux.
  • If a PhD program offers students a week set aside for dissertation writing, take advantage of that. Campbell says this is when she did a majority of her writing.
  • Don’t try to change the world with your dissertation topic—instead, she recommends picking a topic that makes it easier for a person to graduate. Once you get a degree, then you can change the world by researching your pet topic.


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