Career Development

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Key Steps to your Career Development in Health IT

by Dr. Phil Smith

Healthcare Information Technology includes a wide span of careers to cover.  Our goal at HealthITAccelerator.com is to provide tools that can help you grow in your role and learn about opportunities in the field.  Consider that part of your growth is related to skills that you develop, knowledge that you obtain and utilize, and abilities that you improve.  Our observations include the ever-changing landscape of projects, requirements, regulations and challenges that impact our field.  It is important therefore that you give some thought to personal growth.

Someone once said, "You are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting."  There is a lot of truth in that statement.  We are growing when we are pursuing new skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA's) and "green" in that they are new.  It is often intimidating to step back and learn, especially when we are really competent and comfortable in our day-to-day routine.  When we are neophytes in new ideas and techniques, we may make some mistakes/missteps, and question whether it is worth the risk.  However, a greater risk is getting five years down the road and finding that your SKA's are no longer marketable and you are stuck (the ripe and rotting part).  Therefore, we make the case that one should be reading, learning, applying new ideas and taking some risks along the way. The list of techniques is almost endless, so let's just take a few that could refocus your career development efforts in the near-term.

Five Ideas for Your Career Development

Here are five ideas that you might find valuable as career development steps:

  1. Read a (non-fiction) book a week:  I read one non-fiction book every week for 20 years (1993-2013), and inadvertently ended up reading over 1,000 books in the process. However, I had a system.  I read 3-5 books on a single topic in succession.  Apparently, when you read in this manner, you know more on that topic than 99% of the population.  However, it is just not reading, but applying what you read. With this system, you can easily cover 10-15 topics over a year, or 200 over twenty years. How might you be different if you followed this program?  I typically read 30 minutes a day to get through most books.  And occasionally I added some non-fiction works in addition, such as the Harry Potter series.  I do recommend though that you turn the TV off at nights and minimize your time on social media to commit to your reading plan.  It is amazing who many hours a day Americans watch TV, surf the web and play video games.  Maybe "turn off the TV" should be its own tip.
  2. Write reports and white papers:  There are many benefits to being a writer. Not a writer, you say?  Well, the cure for not being a writer is to write.  You don't have to aspire to be the great American novelist. However, you might consider writing reports, white papers and training guides.  I learned early in my career that putting things in "black and white" in the form of a report gives more permanency to your efforts and creates accountability. If you have been in this field for any time, you have expertise that no one else has.  You often see issues and opportunities that need attention, or do projects that have specific milestones and goals.  Be willing to document why you are tackling the problem/project, specifically what you plan to achieve and the timeline for getting there.  Then when you are finished, write up what you did, what you accomplished and how it impacted outcomes. Then send it to your boss and whoever else needs to know.
  3. Find a mentor/be a mentor: Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him."  I have had many mentors in life, including some I have never met.  However, Emerson was correct.  You can learn and grow by observing others and applying best practices. I have two types of mentors: those that I observe and read, and those that personally provide me feedback in an open and honest manner.  You might call the first category "role models".  Observing the successful techniques of communication, interpersonal relations, influence and persuasion are helpful as you mature in your role.  For example, if you always enjoy a meeting led by an individual, then study that person and try to determine what makes the person effective.  Just be aware that the merely asking the person may not be the solution.  Many great role models are "unconsciously competent" in these techniques, and have just done it so long that it is how they operate.  However, most will know what not to do, and can give you incredible feedback on where you may be personally falling short. A career mentor on the other hand is someone that can help you grow and take on new attitudes and challenges.  However, it only becomes valuable if you clearly articulate your dreams and goals and are ready to listen and respond to the feedback.  Great mentors are not there to make decisions for you, but rather to listen, question and redirect your thinking to come to your own insights and path.  While you may be surprised at how many leaders serve as mentors to multiple individuals, it is important that you don't waste his/her time or attempt to deceive your mentor or even yourself.  That is why serving as a mentor is a great exercise as well.  Remember, you have your own expertise that will help someone else grow in some way. Moreover, many of us are in professional organizations looking for volunteers to serve as mentors.
  4. Contribute every day: In this field, we experience high overhead, high costs and an ever-changing work environment.  Like many other industries of our times, the things we do today are much different that what we did five years ago, and what we will be doing five years from now. So my advice to those I have worked with, is "Always make sure you have added value in the past 90 days, or you may not be here 90 days from now."  Now immediately some of you may sense that as a threat, but I want to encourage you to see it from the viewpoint of your employer.  Healthcare organizations have ever-changing priorities and pressures and must determine the workforce to get the job done.  It is rare today that people keep their jobs because they contributed once in the past.  Budgets are tight, reimbursements are fixed or decreasing, and new regulations and needs arise that require new roles and solutions.  So while we will always need doctors, nurses and lab technicians in hospitals, the roles in health IT and informatics change from year to year.  Image you are expert of a software that the organization is "sun setting" (i.e. no longer using).  If you do not have other skills or knowledge, your role may disappear with the platform.  Likewise, you may have been great at automating workflow from paper, but not really capable of bringing new ideas and innovations to the table.  So consider a personal commitment to document your contributions to the organization on a quarterly basis.  Let everyone know how you add value. As a result, when new roles are funded from existing positions, your leaders will already know your value and look elsewhere. Don't wait for your annual evaluation to be your only time to discuss your goals and achievements.
  5. Practice accountability: I saved this one for last since the casual reader will not get through all five recommendations.  However, this is the greatest need in our field and in our society.  So many people today (and shall I add politicians) have no framework around accountability, so it has become a rare commodity indeed.  I really like the series of books on The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman (Portfolio, Penguin Books, 1994, 2004). Let's boil it down to a basic comment, "Say what you mean, mean what you say." The authors of The Oz Principle refer to which side of "The Line" we spend the most time. When we are "Above The Line", we See what needs to be done, we Own what needs to be done, we Solve it, and we Do it. "Below The Line" behavior belongs to victims and the victims' victims. "In business, the descent Below The Line usually begins with creating an environment where no one acknowledges the truth and people don't speak up."  While we all have moments where we slip Below The Line, accountability brings us quickly Above The Line and results occur.  If we could just get 10% of our community to understand and practice accountability, how much more we could achieve.  I hope you are teased enough by the concept that you will pick up this book and begin to apply it at home, at work and in your community.  We need less victims and more truth-tellers in our environments.

Over time we hope to develop and share valuable resources for career development that can improve the effectiveness and growth of our community.  Please leave your thoughts for future ideas and if you have some good resources, please step up and become a contributor.

Photo of raised garden bed with yound plants to symbolize the work of career development
Like career development, everyone desires the harvest, but it starts with planting.

Five Ideas Summarized

  1. Read a non-fiction book every week.
  2. Write reports and white papers.
  3. Find a mentor/Be a mentor.
  4. Contribute every day.
  5. Practice accountability.

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