Nancy Munroe and Karen Stanley gained Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) certification in 2022, something both women say would not have been possible without their friendship. Through four years of part-time study, all the while holding down full-time jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and juggling the responsibilities of young families, these co-workers formed a strong bond of support and partnership which played a huge role in achieving their goals.
CHIMA is the national association for the health information profession in Canada. It represents more than 5,600 health information members across the country, and most recently includes Nancy, Karen, and five other Health Information Management (HIM) staff within the IMIT portfolio at Nova Scotia Health.
Although they were both working in the Northern Zone and living in the same town of Onslow, Nova Scotia,when Nancy enrolled in the HIM course throughCHA Learning, she had no idea her colleague Karen had also enrolled. Nancy was a Data Quality Clerk in Health Records and Karen was on maternity leave from her position as a Team Lead in Health Records.
Both Karen and Nancy remarked that taking the college accredited HIM program offered them entirely new career pathways. Achieving CHIM certification, Nancy explained, allowed her to take an active role in helping the province standardize processes and procedures within Health Information Services (HIS). She noted that:
Studying coding health information management, data quality, registration, pathophysiology, anatomy, and all of the things that you would see on the backend of health processes and procedures allowed me to move from doing switchboard registration and maintaining health records into a management role.
Shortly after finishing the program, Nancy was the successful candidate for the role of Assistant Manager of Health Records in the Northern Zone. She now works out of Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro, Nova Scotia, managing records for the nine facilities in the zone. Nancy has always loved records and commented:
I like learning things and seeing how it all relates to each other. How registration affects records, how records affect forms, and how the standardization of forms brings it all together. I like things going to the right spot, things being organized and in the proper location, and things done properly with no errors. I just love it!
Karen has held a variety of roles within Nova Scotia Health over the past 16 years. In order to enroll in the CHIMA program, she first needed to upgrade by taking a biology course. With three children under the age of six, the entire effort took five years to complete. Karen shared that the hardest part was maintaining balance.
I had to find the proper balance between studying and family to ensure all my assignments were completed on time and I was prepared for the exams. It involved a lot of planning ahead and studying during my lunch hour and breaks at work.
Crediting Nancy as her biggest support, Karen recounted her belief that she could not have done it without her.
I would have quit in year one. I was already struggling with the upgrading, and she always kept me on track and gave me confidence to keep going because I may have given up before actually taking the main course. If it wasn’t for Nancy, I wouldn’t have gotten that biology course. And then once we started, it was a lot. I mean mentally, it was so much and without her support there’s no way I would have completed it.
Karen did complete the course and achieved her CHIMA certification in August of 2022. By February of 2023, she had achieved her dream of becoming a Coding Classification Specialist. “Right now, I code day surgery charts so when a person comes in, I read and decipher all the codes attached to that visit.” This skill set has room for movement, as well. Karen would like to eventually code obstetrics and newborn charts. A motivation for Karen in taking the course was to find a job where she could work from home. “My mom ran a post office out of our house when I was a kid, so as a busy mom myself, having a home office with flex hours works well for raising my family.”
Nancy, whose children were aged four and nine when she began the course, said the self-directed nature of the CHIMA program was challenging. Putting in 15-20 hours a week during her lunch hours, evenings, and on weekends over the four years, she agrees with Karen that balance was really important.
I ate while studying whether it was the library, the car, my desk, whatever space I could use that was quiet enough. It was a lot, especially with the young children to try to have a work life and school balance and not let anything get neglected because if something failed, then I had to let something else fail while I got caught up with that thing.
Nancy credits her friendship with Karen as being a big part of her success.
We were really each other’s cheerleaders when one of us was struggling. We were there to support each other because we were going through the same things, you know, both parents of young children, and both with full-time careers. When I really was down and didn’t know if I could go anymore, she encouraged and pushed and got me through it, and I’d do the same for her.
While it was a challenge for both women to achieve, they agree it was well worth the career advancement that followed.
A total of seven IMIT staff in Health Information Services at Nova Scotia Health have received CHIMA certification in the past two years. In addition to Nancy and Karen, Tara Deruelle, a Coding and Classification Specialist and Hunter Haas, who is Assistant Manager for Health Records in Western Zone, both received their CHIMA certification in 2022. Marci Strong, Assistant Manager for Admitting, Registration and Switchboard in the Western Zone, received her certification in 2023, as did Miriam Lagunas-Carbajal and Irene Vassallo, who are Coding and Classification Specialists.
CHIMA advocates for the health information profession, monitors industry trends, and provides continuing education. The theme of this year’s Health Information Professionals Week (October 16th to 20th) is Knowledge made Visible, something that Nancy, Karen, and all of the other CHIMA graduates are modelling daily.