Microcredentials through AHIMA
AHIMA offers six microcredentials developed for high-demand skill sets demonstrating the HI professional’s proficiency in specialized areas, commitment to skills-based competency, and understanding of industry priorities.
Health information (HI) professionals are in high demand. Consider the following: the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the need for health data analysts to grow 23 percent, medical records specialists 7 percent, and medical and health services managers 28 percent between 2021 and 2031. This uptick can be attributed to the growth of the baby boomer population, expanded healthcare coverage, and increased use of electronic records, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The problem: The healthcare industry is experiencing a labor crisis – and healthcare organizations can no longer simply recruit eager college graduates to fill these seats. In fact, the pool of college graduates is declining. From 2012 to 2022, college student enrollment dropped by about 1.9 million students, or about 10 percent, according to a report in Best Colleges. The decline in numbers has emanated from falling birth rates, rising tuition costs, and the reluctance to enroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Formal traditional degree program costs are also off-putting for many students. What’s more, some students are completing formal education programs, yet are finding that they still don’t have what employers are looking for.
“Students are experiencing more challenges with formal education overall. There are approximately 38 million Americans with some higher education and nothing to show for it. They have stalled or dropped out and don't have market-recognizable credit for their learning,” says Bill West, MBA, ICE-CCP, executive vice president of business development for credentialing and workforce solutions provider Global Skills X-change in Alexandria, VA. “Historic degree programs aren’t fully meeting the needs of today’s population.”
Microcredentials could be the answer on both sides of the employment equation. A microcredential is the formal recognition awarded to an individual who has demonstrated attainment of a narrow (or specific or limited) scope of knowledge, skills, or abilities. The scope of the microcredential can be as granular as a single skill or competency. Microcredentials are increasingly promoted as a flexible way of recognizing knowledge, skills, and competences, and they are gaining popularity because they offer several advantages over traditional degree programs.
Microcredentials could provide students with what they need to start and advance their careers – and provide healthcare organizations with qualified workers to address labor shortages. Microcredentials are being offered by colleges, universities, and professional associations. Sector investors and education market observers said micro- and alternative credential spending by learners, governments, and industry totaled about $10 billion in 2019, and this education investment is anticipated to double in the next three to five years.
The Value of Microcredentials
Microcredentials can be especially useful to individuals who are looking to pursue careers in health information as they can help aspiring professionals. In fact, they provide professionals with the opportunity to advance their careers without having to spend considerable time and money associated with completing formal education programs.
This could apply to entry in the health information field. “Microcredentials enable candidates to start on their professional path sooner, attaining recognized skills prior to or instead of a formal degree, and more likely to end up in the associated profession,” West says.
A microcredential focused on health data analytics, for example, could help a job seeker secure a position in the health information management (HIM) department with a hospital, clinic or payer organization. From there, the individual could determine if they want to pursue additional health information education.
“Microcredentials make it possible for people to give things a try before they make a decision or a commitment to spend resources on additional formal education. It's an entry into a position to see if they like it,” says Angela Kennedy, EdD, MBA, RHIA, chief executive officer of the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) in Chicago.
In addition, microcredentials can help HI professionals develop specialized skills. “In HIM careers, where specialized skills in health information management, data analysis, privacy regulations, or health informatics are essential, microcredentials can provide targeted training to enhance proficiency in these areas,” says Zeynep Behjet, MD, MHI, MEd, program chair for the master program of health informatics, digital health leader & digital health professional certificates at Purdue University Global in West Lafayette, IN.
Microcredentials can also help HI professionals keep up with change by continuously developing new, relevant skills. Employees can increase their value to organizations by developing discrete, incremental abilities that meet evolving needs. “This increases an employee's value to the company and has been shown to increase retention. Employees are happier, and it's a show of investment by the employer,” West says.
In fields such as health information, employees increasingly need to continually reinvent themselves. “People need to upskill and re-skill these days. And, in fact, that will be the trend of the future. With microcredentials, there will be more emphasis on upskilling and re-skilling than entry into the professions, although that certainly will never go away,” says Roy Swift, PhD, executive director of Workcred, a Washington, DC-based organization devoted to strengthening workforce quality by improving the credentialing system. “Because of everything changing so much, these skill bundles called microcredentials are going to be more and more important in order to signal to the employer that you have updated knowledges and skills.”
In health information, technologies and procedures are constantly changing, and employees involved with electronic health records and coding need to adapt to keep up. “It's no longer a nicety. They need to advance their skills to maintain their jobs. They can do that either through on-the-job training, or they're going to have to do more formal processes like microcredentialing,” Swift says.
What’s more, as technology innovations are continually introduced in healthcare, microcredentials can help professionals keep up with this continual call for new skills. They could prove especially valuable in the health information industry.
“The field of health information management is heavily influenced by technology. As technology continues to advance rapidly, HI students and professionals may face challenges in keeping up with the latest software, tools, and information systems used in healthcare,” Behjet says. “HI students must develop a diverse skill set and knowledge base to manage health information and support decision-making in healthcare organizations effectively. Acquiring expertise in multiple domains can be demanding and time-consuming. Microcredentials provide a way for practicing HI professionals to stay up to date with emerging new technologies.”
And, finally, microcredentials make it possible for HI professionals to advance their careers step-by-step. “A new trend is to build ‘stackable’ credentials —incremental achievements that when put together produce a full certification or even formal higher education degree. This can even include optional pathways, choices to tailor which credentials are most desired,” West says.
How Microcredentials Benefit Healthcare Employers
While microcredentials offer many advantages to students and HI professionals, they also can benefit healthcare employers. With microcredentials, healthcare organizations can:
- Confidently recruit competent workers. With microcredentials, employers can “confidently target the candidates with the skills that they need at the time that they need them,” Kennedy says.
- Readily identify transparent skills sets in employees. “The reason that microcredentials are becoming popular is because, generally, microcredentials are skills-based,” Swift says. “The problem with traditional degree programs is that employers often don’t know what skills these graduates bring to the table. Microcredentials provide a more transparent way of signaling what the skills are … and how they specifically match the job.”
- Respond to staffing shortages. “Staffing shortages can increase the demand for microcredentials in healthcare by providing a more agile, flexible, and targeted approach to upskilling and reskilling the workforce,” says Allegra Fowler, MBA, executive director for the Center for Prior Learning Recognition at Purdue University Global. “In healthcare, there are shortages of professionals with specific expertise or niche skills required in health information management or related roles. Microcredentials can bridge these skill gaps by providing targeted and specialized training in particular areas.”
While microcredentials offer many benefits, students, employees, and employers must realize that not all credentials are created equal.
“The quick expansion of microcredential offerings in higher education has yielded many questions about the value that microcredentials possess,” Fowler says. “The various strategies for microcredential development and the different approaches that institutions have taken in defining the purpose of their microcredentials have both resulted in challenges for students, employers, and even other institutions, in making a comparative assessment of value. At the core, though, a microcredential is ‘good’ if it does what it is supposed to do.”
Kennedy agrees and advises all parties to determine which organizations are offering the microcredentials that will actually help them develop needed skills and competencies. That’s why it is important to look for microcredentials that are validated by professional associations.
Microcredentials are providing a needed alternative to higher education programs, experts say. Employees can use microcredentials to rapidly gain entry into health information careers and then advance to higher levels – while healthcare organizations can confidently fill HI positions with the specialized skills they need to succeed.
John McCormack is a Riverside, IL-based freelance writer covering healthcare information technology, policy, and clinical care issues.
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