“Sandra, can you come into my office?”
“Certainly, Laura.”
“Sandra, do you remember the conversation that we had a few weeks ago about your professional development?”
“I do remember the conversation, Laura.”
“Sandra, that conversation has weighed on my mind. You told me that you were not participating in professional development beyond the minimum required for your certification. You also said that you were not including new and evolving topics in that professional development. We need someone in your position who stays on top of the changes in the HIM profession and who wants to succeed in your job. Because you are not this person, we no longer need you ….”

There was a time in the history of health information management (HIM) when the profession was relatively stable. There were changes, but these changes did not come as fast and furious as they do today. HIM is at the crossroads of three constantly changing fields: healthcare, information systems, and HIM itself. There are new laws, technologies, and demands for information, and it’s imperative for HIM professionals to keep up with these changes through professional development.

Professional development is defined as “continuing education and career training after a person has entered the workforce in order to help them develop new skills, stay up to date on current trends, and advance their career.”1 Obtaining HIM credentials or a degree is only the beginning of a lifetime of learning. The HIM professional must continue to evolve both hard skills and soft skills to continue to be successful in the field. Hard skills are those related to our body of knowledge such as data management, privacy, and clinical documentation integrity (CDI). Soft skills are more personal skills such as communication, dealing with difficult people, and listening. Combined, these skills can prepare the HIM professional for a promotion or a change in career path. Professional development is not a one-time task but a career-long commitment.

Professional development activities should be chosen based on career goals. For example, if the HIM professional wants to change from being a coder to a privacy officer, then the continuing education and other professional development activities should be directed toward privacy and the skills necessary to lead the privacy program.

Continuing education is an important part of professional development. The HIM professional has a choice of formal and informal continuing education activities. Formal continuing education opportunities include college courses, conferences, webinars, and the like, and are typically used to maintain credentials as well as update skills. Informal continuing education opportunities include reading professional journals, regulations, scholarly articles, and other professional resources. Informal professional development can also include networking with peers, conducting a self-assessment, professional volunteerism, and more. HIM professionals can also earn additional certifications. These certifications prove knowledge of a subject area to an employer. Even if the HIM professional does not pass the exam on the first try, the exam can identify strengths and weaknesses on the topic that will guide future professional development plans.

A mentor can be used as part of the professional development process. The mentor can be a sounding board, a teacher, and an encourager. This mentor can help the HIM professional identify a professional development plan that will help the mentee meet their career goals.

Professional development goes far beyond the continuing education required for the recertification of credentials. Maintaining credentials is important; many job descriptions require it, and the credentials validate the skills that the HIM professional has—but in today’s environment, this is not enough. HIM professionals need to go beyond the requirements for recertification and develop skills to be successful in today’s world.

Professional development adds value to both the organization and the employee. The organization obtains a better-educated workforce, which can improve the efficiency of operations. It also reenergizes employees as they learn exciting new skills. Professional development assists in succession planning since employees can learn the skills necessary to be promoted from within as positions become available. Employees also gain confidence in their skills and in their work, which shows up as an increase in the quality of their work as well as in their level of productivity.

Finally, professional development increases the recruitment and retention of employees, as the commitment to improving the employee’s knowledge can attract new employees and encourage existing employees to remain.2 Part of the reason for this retention of employees is that the employees see the organization’s commitment to professional development as a commitment to them. This commitment not only encourages the employee to remain with the organization but also motivates them to do their best work. It encourages employees to do their part in the professional development process. The employee becomes more valuable to the organization and experiences personal growth.

Professional development does not have to cost a lot of money. There are many free and low-cost professional development opportunities available; it just takes time to research and participate in these activities. Examples include free continuing education hours available through some of the AHIMA membership levels, podcasts, white papers, scholarly online articles, and networking.

Professional development is a lifetime process. It takes commitment to plan and execute that plan effectively so that career and other goals are met. Failure to participate in professional development will result in becoming outdated and stagnant in both hard and soft skills, which may have a negative impact on employment opportunities. The moral of the story is make the commitment to professional development so that the sample conversation at the beginning of this article does not happen to you.

  1. Antley, Trevor. “What is Professional Development and Why Is it Important?” WebCE, July 16, 2020.
  2. “5 Benefits of Professional Development.” Kaplan Solutions, 2021.
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  1. What a timely article…right at graduation time! Graduation is certainly a momentous occasion to mark the achievement of an academic degree, but as Dr. Sayles pointed out, formal education and/or credential attainment is just the foundation of a successful career in HIM. Changes in technology, healthcare, and the legal environment require a continuous learning pathway to remain a valued and relevant workforce member, and many current HIM knowledge ores can only be mined from continuing education. I will add this article to the required reading list for my interns. Thank you, Dr. Sayles!

    1. Dr. Sayles, this article is such a great read and one that I will be adding to my required reading also! The beginning conversation sends such a powerful message on why professional development is not only critical in the Health Information Management (HIM) field but in any field. It is important to stay relevant and educated on topics that are impactful to enhance professional growth and bring success to organizations.

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