There are a lot of different paths to a career in Healthcare IT, and one of the easiest ways to transition is from another department in a hospital. When I started getting serious about my career path, I took a job in a hospital central supply department- not for the pay, but for the peripheral connections that I knew I could make to get me to that next step. It worked quite well when I took my first Healthcare IT job in 1995.
Let’s take a look at some of the hospital departments that provide the best opportunity to get into the IT department, and some that don’t.
If you work as a pharmacy tech in a central or retail pharmacy operation, there are lots of ways to transition to your hospital IT department. You can work with the clinical pharmacy software such as the Epic Willow module, or you can work with the centralized or point of care systems like Omnicell or Pyxis. There could also be opportunities to stay in your current position but be a subject matter expert on projects relating to the pharmacy.
Hospital Materials Management (Central Supply)
This is the department that deals with all of the supply issues for a healthcare organization. While they may not initially seem very IT oriented, they rely heavily on technical systems for inventory management, and usually have a close working relationship with IT. This is a good department to start in if you are short on IT skills, and need to get your foot in the door. You could find yourself working with automated dispensing systems for supplies.
Sterile Processing (SPD)
This department is usually closely connected to materials management, and performs the job of sterilizing certain equipment that is used in the hospital rooms and other places in the hospital. This is not a great place to start if you’re trying to get into IT. There simply isn’t much of a connection.
This is the department that is responsible for maintaining and certifying devices and equipment for a hospital. They deal with patient care related devices such as insulin pumps, EKG devices, hand-held scanners, and temperature controlling equipment. They are not typically responsible for IT related hardware such as servers, PCs, and network routers and switches. Biomed is sometimes in the same organizational unit as Information Technology, and is sometimes under the Engineering department. Since Biomed staff are quite technical, working in Biomed would give you a fairly easy path to IT. It would just be a matter of learning more about software and clinical applications. Here is a related post on medical devices and Biomed certification.
Medical Records (HIM)
This is the department which maintains, safeguards, and archives the medical records for a healthcare entity. Also known as Health Information Management, they have undergone huge changes as electronic health records have become the norm. This department also usually governs the medical coding functions. Coding involves ensuring accurate medical documentation to meet regulations and correctly bill insurance companies. Working in Medical Records is a good place to start if you want to make the jump to an IT position.
If you are a Radiology tech who wants to make a jump to IT, you won’t have much trouble finding Radiology systems to master in your daily job. You could find opportunities working with software as well as with the imaging equipment. If you don’t find openings in your IT department, you could look for jobs with the Radiology vendors.
Patient Support Services – Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Multi-Skilled Tech (MST), Patient Registrar
These positions have direct patient contact, and have high visibility to the public and other hospital staff. You most likely will interact with technology at some level, and have a reasonable chance to work your way into an IT job with a bit of extra training or education. I know one guy in a hospital who moved from Patient Registration to work with the Epic module that supports scheduling, Cadence. He has turned out to be a rock star in his IT position.
Patient Financial Services (Billing Office)
The hospital billing office relies heavily on technology, and many times the IT analysts for billing software must have a deep knowledge of financial operations. For these reasons, the path from the billing office to IT is solid.
Patient Care – Medical Assistant (MA) or Registered Nurse
It almost goes without saying that these folks have a very easy entry point into IT. They may work on the hospital floor, outpatient clinics, or in any number of specialty departments, such as OB or Oncology. They know clinical workflow well, and sometimes know certain parts of an application better than IT staff. They also tend to make good IT trainers. This post on making the jump from CNA to Healthcare IT provides a detailed roadmap to transition from a patient care position to IT.