AHIMA CEO to Student Academy ‘I Want to See an Army Behind Me’

AHIMA CEO to Student Academy  ‘I Want to See an Army Behind Me’

By Mary Butler


For many health information management (HIM) students, AHIMA’s Student Academy on Sunday morning offered one of the first opportunities to hear from HIM industry veterans about the job market and industry into which they’ll soon be graduating.

“I haven’t even been to a session yet and I’ve already learned more in the last three hours [of the Student Academy] than I have in three years of being in school,” said first-time Conference attendee Desiree Mazza, a student at the University of Central Florida. “Listening to the speakers and other students in the question and answer sessions has enlightened me. I’ve been so lost trying to decide what to do in HIM. This has opened up so many avenues for my future,” Mazza said.

There was plenty to inspire Mazza and other students at this year’s Student Academy. Christi Lower, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA, academic affairs subject matter expert at AHIMA, reassured students that being nervous about their futures at this early stage is common. During the question and answer session of Lower’s presentation about Health Information Management Reimagined, a student asked for advice about lacking confidence to pursue coding.

Lower assured the students that feelings of concern are normal, and encouraged them to trust in their abilities. “Some of you are managing families and jobs. Getting through a curriculum is a huge testament to your ability,” Lower said.

“There will be a moment at 3 o’ clock in the morning where you go ‘oh no.’ You won’t walk out of school a perfect coder. Coding skills take one to three years to develop.”

AHIMA has been offering the Student Academy for several years in conjunction with Conference in order to provide education, networking, and an introduction to mentorship and volunteering opportunities to students.

Robyn Stambaugh, MS, RHIA, director, HIM practice excellence at AHIMA, was instrumental in organizing the Academy and selecting presenters.

“I hope students will have at least one significant takeaway from each of the presentations. In my mind it is an early opportunity to see the value in membership and volunteering,” Stambaugh said.

Advice from AHIMA Leaders

AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, and Board of Directors President Valerie Watzlaf, PhD, MPH, RHIA, FAHIMA, offered students more advice and inspiration as they took questions from students. When asked how students could help fulfill AHIMA’s vision to empower people to impact health, Harris described a book she’s reading about “embracing the messy middle” of professional and personal pursuits.

“You are our future. When times get tough, push through,” Harris said. “We celebrate the beginnings and endings but when things get hard we want to give up. Leaders are born in the messy middle.

“AHIMA’s new mission and vision and strategic plan requires we say yes when others say no. Learn the interpersonal skills you need to be successful.”

Some of those interpersonal skills include being effective communicators and critical thinkers.

“Can you write well? Can you tell a story—are you a good storyteller? How do these things link to our mission and vision? AHIMA is positioning itself to be a global health leader. When I look behind me I want to see an army,” Harris said.

One student asked Watzlaf how to know where to start when choosing a career path.

“You start with what you love, what you’re passionate about. It’s sometimes difficult and overwhelming. I say to my students: we do have more jobs and opportunities than we have people to fill them,” Watzlaf said.

Learning to Lead

Leadership was a major theme at the event. Keith Olenik, MA, RHIA, CHP, who owns his own HIM consulting firm and has taught HIM students at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, gave a presentation on leadership in the afternoon.

“Even if you aren’t formally identified in the workplace as someone in management, the ability to lead exists. This can also be true outside of work,” Olenik said. “Some people are naturally born with leadership desire and ability. Others may need to learn it, but it’s more than just reading about it. Being able to put leadership into practice is something that some education programs may do better than others.”

Olenik says students must go beyond what they learn in the classroom and take responsibility for expanding their knowledge and being able to demonstrate competency in all areas that are pertinent to what they want to do.

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