The case for health IT internships

How do we prepare students, and give them the tools and experience they need to succeed?

Analysis

The recent federal mandates for healthcare information technology have increased demand on the field, boosting the need for educated and knowledgeable staff for health IT projects. But with the emergence and recent popularity of graduate education in healthcare informatics, we are seeing an influx of students entering these programs who do not have clinical or information technology backgrounds.

These individuals have a great desire to work in informatics and recognize the enormous impact the field can have on healthcare, but they lack the hands-on experience that many employers seek. Some of these students have even reported challenges getting hired after obtaining their master’s degree, for lack of ‘experience.’

Given this, how do we prepare these individuals and give them the tools and experience they need to succeed?

Recently, the graduate program for which I am the director began the process of engaging partners in the health IT sector to act as internship sites for our students. This process will be multi-part, but in the end will provide excellent experience for graduating students.

A recent article on Forbes.com, "Internships May Be The Easiest Way To A Job In 2013" discussed a survey conducted by Internships.com that suggested the internship was the “new interview.” This would certainly seem true, considering that the student spends a considerable amount of time at the internship site and becomes well known to the potential employer. As part of its 2013 Student Survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that “63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer.”

Recognizing the important part that internships could play in preparing for the future of healthcare IT, the New England chapter of HIMSS, through its student liaison Jay Adams, has embarked on an vigorous program to partner leading healthcare organizations with academic institutions offering programs in healthcare informatics.

"Our hope is to provide graduate students with real-world experience which will enable them to launch or advance a career in healthcare information and management systems," Adams told me during a recent conversation. He also added that, as student liaison, his role is to "work with academic institutions to align our events and industry knowledge with students and academic programs."

After reaching out to many contacts in the New England chapter, Jay was able to arrange a conference call between a large academic medical center and myself. As a result, we are currently in the process of setting up a multi-month internship for students, which will provide them an outstanding opportunity to apply knowledge they have learned in the classroom to real-world problems. From this experience, they will gain valuable work experience, build upon current skills and develop new ones all while preparing for a career in healthcare IT.

Companies that host interning students can experience many benefits. According to the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida, these include:

  • Developing new solutions for common business practices
  • Integrating the latest tools and techniques into the daily workflow
  • Refining management skills by scheduling and supervising interns
  • Developing potential new employees or volunteers
  • Influencing curriculum development at the associated college to better meet business and industry standards
  • Contributing to the professional community by enhancing and expanding available local talent

Having sufficient numbers of qualified staff is foremost in the minds of many CIO’s. To some, ARRA and HITECH have been both a blessing and a curse. With an expected growth of 20 percent by 2018, healthcare IT jobs are predicted to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018 (e.g., see Medical Records and Health Information Technicians).

As internships play such a vital role in preparing the next generation of HIT leaders, organizations that participate in student internships live the adage "Pay it Forward." What better way to give back and steer the future of our industry?

[See also: Health IT workforce will require higher skill set]