Keeping the VLab Vital

Keeping the VLab Vital


By Lauren Liacouras

Mecredi Cruder, RHIA, CPC, has rooted her professional career in service. From assisting with the AHIMA VLab™ demos as a student while attending the University of Pittsburgh to assuming the role of program director in the Patient Administration Branch of the US Army Medical Center of Excellence, Cruder touts a legacy built on volunteerism.

A staunch activist within the health information management community, Cruder has served close to two decades in the military. After attending the University of Pittsburgh in 2016, she seized the opportunity to set a course for the rest of her professional career.

“I had been involved with health information management since 2004,” Cruder says. “But I felt as if I was going through the motions. That’s in part because we tend to place people in positions every two years in the military, so we don’t have enough time to soak everything in and really understand what we’re doing. After I left the university, I had a chance to explore my passions, which included education and consulting.”

Innovating with the AHIMA VLab

In 2018, Cruder applied to be part of AHIMA’s inaugural volunteer program and became one of the first students selected to participate. While attending AHIMA’s national conference, Cruder became involved with the AHIMA VLab.

“While I was volunteering down in Miami, I stumbled upon the VLab and got a chance to see how it all worked,” Cruder says. “That exposure sparked my interest for how I came to volunteer down the line.”

As Cruder further immersed herself in the AHIMA VLab demos, she met John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA, AHIMA’s director of academic education services, whose passion and enthusiasm inspired her involvement with the CEE VLab Strategic Advisory Committee.

“I received a message stating that I qualified to apply to be part of the committee; I thought about it for a while, and I waited until the last day to submit my application. It took me a bit to truly believe that I qualified for the position, but my love for engaging students in new ways helped everything to fall into place.”

Over the course of her time spent with the AHIMA VLab, Cruder wholly embraced her suite of responsibilities as a student volunteer and nurtured her goal of providing students with hands-on experiences that improve retention.

“While serving on the committee, it was our responsibility to provide feedback on some of the VLab features that enhance student learning,” Cruder says. “We attended monthly meetings and, in addition to providing feedback, were able to test the features; we then hosted seminars to demonstrate how we could use those features to maximize student engagement.”

Improvements in Education

For Cruder, volunteering with the AHIMA VLab satiated her passion for learning and exploring innovative ways to educate others. She believes that hands-on learning through the AHIMA VLab elevates students’ comprehension of important concepts.

“Normally, we sit and view PowerPoint presentations, but we really don’t understand how to apply some of these concepts to our work. That’s what I liked most about the AHIMA VLab,” Cruder says. “I tend to research and seek out different platforms that I can use to augment student engagement; it’s important for these students to view learning as fun.”

Cruder testifies that her involvement with the AHIMA VLab inspired her teaching method when interacting with other military personnel.

“Everything I’ve learned through the AHIMA VLab has been incredibly useful when trying to help other military officers understand the foundation of health information management and how we can apply different aspects of HIM in hospital settings,” Cruder says.

Beyond her involvement with the AHIMA VLab and the CEE VLab Strategic Advisory Committee, Cruder serves on the Council for Excellence in Education. At the core of her service is her unwavering dedication to improving learning experiences for other military personnel. The council’s primary goal is to ensure that developments in higher learning are applicable not only to students but also those in the civilian sector.

Embracing Leadership

Currently, Cruder serves as a director in the Patient Administration Branch of the US Army Medical Center of Excellence. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Cruder developed confidence in her skill set and built the momentum needed to make a lasting impact on education across myriad sectors.

“My varied experience has made it easy to teach students how to apply what they’re learning to our work in the health information management world or in patient administration,” Cruder says. “To be able to capture diagnoses and vital information is crucial and ultimately affects a soldier when they leave the military. Contextualizing the information goes a long way.”

Reflecting back on her career thus far, Cruder takes pride in her activism and innovation. Her stalwart attitude has led to invaluable volunteer opportunities and has inspired her to revamp the education platform for those with whom she serves in the military.

“One of my career highlights is definitely being selected for AHIMA’s volunteer program. I didn’t think I would get in, but my enthusiasm allowed my talent to shine through,” Cruder says. “The other highlight is working at the Medical Center of Excellence. It’s the mecca for all of our military training. It’s truly fulfilling being able to collaborate with different agencies and helping to establish programs that I know are going to make a lasting difference in our military officers’ career. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

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