The academic year 2020 was no ordinary year. Two budding health information professionals from the CHIMA MBNU Chapter talk about what it was like to take their first steps toward a new career while a global pandemic kept us all on our toes.
My first year—2020—in the two-year Health Information Management (HIM) diploma program at Red River College in Winnipeg was anything but ordinary. While online learning is not a new or foreign concept for many of us in the HIM field, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced some special challenges (as you might imagine).
Our 2020 academic year appeared similar to other years in many ways, but an uneasy feeling pervaded. From independently constructing and navigating our class schedules to attending weekly class meetings on videoconferencing platforms to learning how to handle both solo and group assignments and exams remotely: much of what we would have done in person and together before COVID-19, we did alone through our computers. I don’t think any of us were confident in knowing how this year would turn out.
All of this change resulted in a great deal more screen time, not to mention occasional frustration over software compatibility and reliance on web-based networks—but it brought advantages, too. The course material our instructors delivered was very organized, aided by things like PowerPoint presentations that detailed class topics and included video recordings; assignment instructions were clear and accessible; and recorded videoconference meetings meant we could replay what we may have missed the first time. And because all of this was available digitally, at any time, students who needed to accommodate other things while in school—such as employment—could juggle things with more ease.
I’ve always wanted to work in the health care sector, and what interests me about the HIM program at Red River College is how it’s preparing me to be a part of that industry: showing and teaching me how to help patients by being a steward of their information. It also invites me to bring my interpersonal skills to bear. As my time in this program progresses, with one practicum now complete, I’m learning more about what health information professionals actually do: from research to informatics to privacy, security, legal, and finance issues that we play a part in managing. In fact, what I’ve learned is that seemingly every health information professional can offer a different description of what health information management is and how our role impacts the health care industry as a whole. Our core responsibilities being the safeguarding of patient health records and enabling those same patients to access their own records, encouraging them to ask questions and get involved with their own health care plans.
I’m excited and look forward to not only my second year in the HIM program but also my future as a health Information professional. I’m eager to take on networking opportunities across Canada in order to expand my knowledge within this growing field.
It’s still a strange concept to me that I haven’t yet met some of my current classmates in person. I always found meeting other students and collaborating to be one of the most beneficial parts of school but, one year into my two-year Health Information Management (HIM) diploma program at Red River College, I still can’t put a face to every name I see on screen.
Members of our class—there are 26 of us—have met in person on a few occasions for labs, and there have been a few encounters outside the bookstore but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone makes it to these rare meetups. Working on projects and assignments together used to mean sitting in the campus library after class. Now we sit in pajamas at home and attend videoconference meetings, trying our best to share our work with the group and convey our ideas through text messaging. Although there were a great number of challenges navigating this new education landscape, a definite highlight of this past school year was my first practicum placement. I got to see health information work in action and had the opportunity to chat with one of my classmates for the first time in person!
Health information management was not an obvious career choice for me at first. Choosing to begin a two-year, full-time program in April 2020 felt like a risk, and I suspect I wasn’t the only person who felt that way, going back to school. The pandemic had just begun, and everyone was uncertain about what life would be like 12 or even six months into the future. But when I learned more about HIM, it was the real-life scenarios and applications of a health-and-technology career in our current landscape that seemed like a sure choice to me—especially when everything else around us felt so unsure. Being part of a developing and versatile profession and part of an organization like CHIMA has made me confident I can carve out an HIM career that suits me, and that it will lead me to where I want to go in life.
Although none of us know for sure what education and the job market will look like in the future, I’m confident my experiences during this past year—pivoting among changing regulations and expectations—have prepared me well for any future HIM workplace, whether it be in person, working from home, or a hybrid. Making a big life change during a global pandemic—in my case, deciding to go back to school—felt like a risky venture. But already I can see the risk paying off, and I can’t wait to see what my second year of HIM brings.