We spoke to Michelle Galant, a second-year student in Southern Alberta Institute for Technology’s HIM program, to find what she’s learned about getting into the health information field—and what tips she has for other emerging HIM professionals.
As the health information management field becomes more complex, there are more career path options available than ever before. And though this means more possibilities for HIM students, it can also mean that they are overwhelmed by opportunities. It can be difficult to prepare for a career in a field that is constantly evolving.
Michelle wasn’t always sure what she wanted to do. She loved biology and computers, but she knew she didn’t want a career involving direct patient care. Working in HIM felt like a perfect fit. Prior to applying for an HIM program, Michelle spent time researching her options. She advises those interested in the profession to do the same. It’s helpful to understand the curriculum, the range of knowledge covered, and the skills required to work in the field, she says.
Two of the most important skills for health information, according to Stephanie Clack, one of Michelle’s instructors at SAIT, are critical thinking and the ability to access good resources. But soft skills such as professionalism, work ethic, and reliability are key, too. “Even if you’re working in a records office,” Michelle says, “you need to have people skills and confidence.”
Networking a key to success
Though networking can be daunting, particularly when you’re new to a field, Michelle found it to be beneficial. During her first year, she talked to second-year students and gained knowledge that helped her better prepare for what was to come—things like that there would be a big jump in second year from memorizing to applying information, and from interactive to more computer-based learning. Second-year students may find it helpful to talk to recent graduates about their experiences.
Michelle also attended a CHIMA chapter meeting. “It was a bit scary to put myself out there, but that’s where I learned about the kind of work I now plan to do,” she shared. “It was interesting to hear about how people do things differently in different places.”
Stephanie adds that it’s a good idea to ask questions of those in the field who have taken unique career paths. “You may not plan to move, but you may not want the same job forever. You can meet people in roles you might connect with or get to know people who can be references to recommend you.”
Be open to the possibilities
While it can be comforting to have a specific role or career path in mind, being open to taking risks and trying new things can be rewarding and help drive your career forward. Rather than focusing solely on hospital jobs, which is common among students and recent graduates entering the HIM field, look at domains of practice and keywords in your skillset.
Michelle notes that it took her an entire semester to figure out how to look for work. “A lot of jobs aren’t specifically marketed as HIM jobs, but do relate to what we do,” she says. Many HIM skills can be useful in primary health and even outside the health care sphere, such as with companies in need of privacy of information support.
And whether you’re new to the field or an HIM veteran, it never hurts to be willing to take a risk. If something looks interesting, learn more and give it a try. Health information is an ever-evolving area and there are lots of opportunities—it’s just a matter of knowing what you want and need from your career.