Austin Davert doesn’t waste much time worrying about things he can’t do or the ways in which his life is different than his peers. Instead, he celebrates the achievements he worked for years to accomplish—such as getting his driver’s license a couple month ago, at age 22, and staying on track to graduate from Davenport University this spring with a degree in health information management (HIM).
Like every student preparing for a career in the healthcare field, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder that healthcare professionals put themselves at some level of risk when they go to work. For Davert, who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) type III, contracting a respiratory illness could be deadly due to the way his condition limits his lung capacity. Although the pandemic has kept him from the volunteer role at an urgent-care clinic he’s had for two years, it’s only strengthened his resolve to pursue HIM—a career that can provide the flexibility to focus on what he can—and loves to do.
“It’s more of a challenge, but I really want to still be a part of healthcare at a time like this. I really love healthcare and helping other people. It’s an exciting time that I’m finishing. But [I have] some nervousness. It’s something I want to achieve,” Davert says.
Davert shares OI, a genetic condition, with his twin sister Michaela and his mother, which has ensured he never felt alone managing the disease’s symptoms and treatments or navigating day-to-day activities that most people don’t think twice about.
“What was great about having a family with it [OI] is that I really didn’t feel different in a way and it was a normal part of life,” Davert says. “It was a lot different to be born with a condition than to become disabled later in life. It was easier to manage your life that way than a sudden surprise. But I consider it a real blessing to really have my family in my life and to be able to show me the ropes. They really have shown me the way and how to be more independent and what things they did in life. It’s really been helpful to me. It really broke the barrier of not feeling different, to be able to have a more independent life.”
Davert was born and raised in Bay City, MI, where he currently lives with his sister and parents, although he hopes to move out and live independently in an apartment. For most of his life he’s been treated by an OI specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he says he’s been fortunate to have excellent, well-coordinated care, which is not always the case for people with lifelong, chronic conditions.
Childhood was pretty normal, according to Davert, who went to public schools but had an aide dedicated to him. He doesn’t suffer from any cognitive issues that can accompany the disease, so he was able to attend normal classes and participate in extracurricular activities, including band, where he was a percussionist. However, living in a small town—where accommodations such as automatic doors, wheelchair ramps, and properly functioning elevators aren’t always a given—taught Davert how to be vocal about his own accessibility. His elementary school installed automatic doors to make the school more accessible for himself and other students, and helped him with a key fob that made entering his school much easier.
Finding a disability friendly four-year university proved trickier.
“When I started my college search I was thinking of going on campus and it didn’t really work out, but I found that online classes were really the best option for me. Going to different campuses, there were a lot of challenges with accessibility. Some of them had stairs and a lot of them had elevators that didn’t really work, and it’s a real challenge just to find the right college,” Davert explains. “But I guess finding my way through life has always just been a challenge. You find other ways to do things. It’s been a challenge but it’s also been a great learning experience in life for me to be able to speak up for myself and be able to advocate for things I might need and to not feel bad about it.”
As Davert told the Journal back in October, he was drawn to a career in healthcare thanks to a health technology and marketing health class during his junior year in high school, where a savvy teacher told him he might like HIM. He was originally interested in becoming a physician’s assistant, but welcomed the idea of being able to combine his interests in technology and healthcare through HIM. After some investigating, Davert found that Davenport University, which has campuses throughout Michigan, had a 100 percent online HIM course, which perfectly suited to his needs. He’s nearly done with the program and he completed a practicum at a skilled nursing facility last year.
“I got to shadow the medical records director and we discussed so much healthcare privacy and clinical documentation, data, and coding, and I got to shadow the MDS [the minimum data set nurse] coordinator there. So I really got a good range of experiences when I was there and I really enjoyed my time,” Davert says.
The AHIMA20 Virtual Conference offered Davert the opportunity to experience an AHIMA event for the first time, as he’s been unable to travel to previous conferences and events, which prompted AHIMA to reach out to him late last year. In a follow-up interview Davert explained that the online event was enormously successful in solidifying his enthusiasm for his upcoming degree and interest in the field.
“I had an awesome time. The people there were so supportive and it was great to be able to go to so many different educational presentations and be able to learn more about the field, learn about different areas of HIM. I took the Coding Path, which really helped me to kind of learn more skills in that area and to really gain some more knowledge from other people,” Davert says.
An avid gamer, Davert says coding and clinical documentation integrity appeal to him because they’re like a puzzle that needs to be solved.
“You need to have all the right pieces, make sure the pieces are correct in order to really put this puzzle together as far as coding goes. I thought it was great how they explained their thought process when coding different procedures. I learned a lot more advanced procedure coding skills, and I learned a lot more of the thought process I guess you could say.”
Davert’s AHIMA20 experience wasn’t limited to just coding sessions. His gaming habits paid off in AHIMA20’s gamification feature, which awarded “badges” to attendees for every educational session, networking event, and keynote presentation. Out of 1,300 AHIMA20 attendees, Davert finished the event in 13th place on the badge leader board.
“I set it as a personal challenge. I’m a pretty competitive person and I thought it was fun. It being my first time I wanted to experience everything,” he says.
Not content to just attend education and Coding Path sessions, Davert attended every conference-related event he could, including networking events, virtual cocktail parties, breakfasts, and receptions. The highpoint for him was meeting and chatting with AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE.
“I didn’t expect to meet her and some of the other AHIMA staff including Paula [Mauro] the social media manager and [AHIMA20 emcee] Amanda [Marijanovic], so that was cool, being able to meet them, and they were really supportive because they saw the article you did with me before the event. It was a real surprise and it was great to get to meet those people,” Davert says.
A month or so after AHIMA20 wrapped up, Davert completed his driver’s training and was finally able to get his driver’s license, after years of waiting.
“Seeing my peers be able to drive in high school was great, but it was hard because I wasn’t able to at the time. But I just kept working towards that goal. But it was just a great experience for me. It taught be a lot about being more confident. It’s just going to change my whole life and allow for so much more freedom,” Davert says.
Driving on his own will help him commute to a job, which he hopes to be able to find after graduation.
“I’m thinking about starting in a billing position, something more entry level to get my foot in the door, so that when a position opens I can move up that way. I don’t have the level of experience entry-level jobs require.”
Davert attributes his love of healthcare to the experiences he had as a patient, particularly a physician who always asked him what kind of care he wanted to receive.
“She never said, ‘this is what we’re doing and it’s the only option.’ Giving patients options and making them feel like they’re in charge of their own care is a benefit,” Davert says. “I guess having those personal experiences inspired me to go into the field. I want to be able to help people to work hard and give back.”
Mary Butler (email@example.com) is senior editor at Journal of AHIMA.