By Todd Norden, RHIA
I distinctly remember when the ax fell on my print journalism career: November 2011.
After spending more than 15 years in the industry, my career was over. I sat at home a few days before my 41st birthday wondering what came next.
Have you ever reflected on “that one moment”—a huge moment that became a turning point in your life, even though at the time it may have seemed small and inconsequential?
I have, and it has made me the health information management (HIM) professional I am today. It hass also given me a sense of gratitude and embedded a mantra in my life that I want to share with anyone considering a career transition—or who has recently made one—into the HIM profession today:
Believe in yourself. You can do this.
That One Moment
That one huge moment for me came around early 2004, while I was an arts and entertainment reporter in New Jersey. From 1998 to 2004, I felt like I was pursuing my dream of writing for Rolling Stone magazine, and even had gotten opportunities to interview celebrities such as Alice Cooper and Kevin Bacon.
But I was homesick and wanted to return to the Midwest. I decided to pursue a job at a newspaper in Sioux Falls, SD.
During my interview, a reporter drove me around the city to show me landmarks and local points of interest. While driving north on Interstate 29, I still recall him pointing out the national headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Sam). Good Sam is a national not-for-profit leader in senior housing and care.
“There’s a lot of good people who work there,” the reporter told me as we drove by the Good Sam headquarters. I don’t know why that moment stuck with me, but I’m glad it did. It was the key to my career transition.
The Good Samaritan Society was one of the first places I applied after I was laid off in 2011. My role was to review policies and procedures, memos and manuals, and newsletters.
My “soft skills” got me there—skills that are key to success in making a career transition to a position in HIM. For anyone thinking about making the leap, it’s important to think about what skills you possess from your previous career and how they will apply to HIM. For me, print journalism was about making phone calls, meeting deadlines, reporting truth with accuracy, and telling stories. The same applies to HIM: How many times have we heard the adage that we are “telling the patient’s story”?
While in this role, I gradually was exposed to information surrounding HIM: HIPAA, the advent of ICD-10 coding, and privacy and security measures. That’s when a former Good Sam colleague said to me: “Go for it. Pursue this as a career. It’s a good time to get into it.”
A Four-Year Degree at 46
The next four years of my life—from 2013 to 2017—were spent on HIM schooling and research. Every lunch break, every weekend, nearly every moment were devoted to getting a degree from Dakota State University. My goal was to immediately get a bachelor’s in health information management and then an RHIA credential. I was driven by AHIMA and its Career Map, the opportunities for improving my salary, and my career outlook.
It took sacrifice. It also took some new skills to help make the transition.
Part of those skills meant learning about social media. Fortunately, I was also learning about this area in my role at Good Sam as it shifted toward developing web content and digital marketing strategies. I learned in this transition that Twitter and LinkedIn can be your best friends. Twitter for the content, LinkedIn for the connections.
I followed folks in HIM such as Brad Justus, Danika Brinda, Erin Head, Robyn Stambaugh on social media, which helped me learn more about the industry as well as forge connections. They also drove me to learn and to believe that I could have a career in this field, too.
Shortly after graduating from Dakota State University, I obtained my RHIA credential. Four months after graduation, with my second degree at age 46, I earned my first role as a charge description master analyst at a Sioux Falls hospital.
Be That Person
What advice would I give to you if you are considering or are making the transition to a career in health information management?
- Emphasize your soft skills. It doesn’t matter whether you are a bank teller or a graphic designer; everyone has soft skills that can transition to a career in HIM, whether it’s data entry, meeting deadlines, or filing accurate reports. Translate yours into how they can and will apply to a new HIM role.
- Get involved. Develop relationships to get your foot in the door. Maybe you won’t be coding charts or managing a HIM department right away, but volunteer to assist your CSA. Take time off to attend a CSA meeting and meet people, learn names, and connect with faces. Participate in social media discussions online. Offer to mentor others. Serve to find a role that allows you to blossom.
- Learn from others in your role. If you are fresh to the HIM profession, your colleagues should shape, propel, and depend on you to grow. It’s up to you. Stay involved and stay committed to the profession.
- Be that person who encourages others. Maybe it’s sharing advice. Inviting others to a CSA meeting. Serve as a mentor. Share your knowledge and experience in a tweet or two. In other words, be that person who is valued.
Be that person. You can do it. Believe in yourself. You can do this.
Todd Norden is a charge description master coordinator for Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Phoenix, AZ, and chair of the New Graduate Leadership Committee for AHIMA.