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Article Archive

Changing technologies

Medical & healthcare IT: a career helping people

Companies in the field favor diversity in their own workforces to complement the complexity of the markets they serve

"Diversity brings out communication differences and it's interesting to see how we all work together."
- Alfonso Perez, BCBS Florida

Resume Drop Box

Brandon Banks.

IS PM Brandon Banks is just out of Aetna's three-year leadership development program

Teresa Smith

GE Healthcare's Teresa Smith heads up a large clinical-content project.

Information technology specific to medical activities, like patient records, lab technology and healthcare-oriented insurance and accounting, fills a specialized niche. Many of the techies involved in the field got there through other jobs in healthcare or through their IT proficiency. Most see this work as a worthwhile chance to benefit people directly.

It's also a field that values diversity. Vishal Wanchoo, president and CEO for GE Healthcare Integrated IT Solutions, notes that "Our employees are our competitive advantage. I am very proud of our ability to attract talented people who reflect the diversity of the markets we serve."

"Cigna's profitability depends on attracting, developing and retaining a diverse, innovative workforce of outstanding men and women," agrees Priti S. Dheer, Cigna's director of diversity.

Aetna's Brandon Banks: multi-functional PM
Brandon Banks is a multi-functional project manager in the information services department of Aetna, Inc (Hartford, CT), the insurance giant that offers health and long-term care as well as many other benefits.

Banks, a native of Glastonbury, CT, is of Cape Verdean and African American descent. His stepfather is an engineer and his mother a teacher.

Banks graduated from Bentley College (Waltham, MA) with a degree in international business with an IT focus. He joined Aetna as an intern in 2000, while still in college, through the Inroads program which helps talented minority youth get a start in the corporate world.

At Aetna, Banks works in IT management for the company's prescription home delivery service. Orders are received through the company website, phone, mail or fax and put into the computer system. Banks' group is responsible for validating the quality of filled prescriptions, and develops Web database apps to help business users. Banks is also part of the reporting team which creates daily, monthly and quarterly operational, financial, regulatory and marketing reports.

Some of the developers Banks manages are a lot older than he is. This means, he says, that he has to keep on proving himself on a daily basis to earn their respect.

Banks has just completed Aetna's three-year leadership development program. It gave him a taste of work in program delivery, IT strategy, architecture governance and network and contact center engineering: a lot to absorb in three years! "I try to own my own career, and being a minority can influence the way I do that," Banks reflects. "Our new CEO is African American, and he is an inspiration to me.

"I want to climb the corporate ladder, but I also want to make a difference in the lives of others, make my family proud and give back to my community."

Teresa Smith designs systems at GE Healthcare
Teresa Smith.

Teresa Smith.

Teresa Smith is a systems designer at GE Healthcare Integrated IT. She's currently the lead system designer for a large clinical-content project. The work, she explains, "will provide clinicians with specialty and disease-specific tools for documenting patient encounters."

Smith is responsible for design decisions, defect tracking, change control processes, engineering project management and some software development. "My experience with medical software apps, combined with my medical informatics training, has given me an understanding of the information management issues facing healthcare organizations today," she says.

She began working as a programmer twenty years ago. She gravitated toward medical applications because "I feel like I'm making a difference in healthcare."

Smith grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Her father was a journeyman machinist and her mother a textbook editor.

She completed a BS in geology at the University of California-Santa Cruz in 1979 and went on to a 1981 MS in earth science from the University of Arizona. She spent time at the University of Chicago (Chicago, IL) studying evolutionary biology and at the University of Houston (Houston, TX) working in computer science. Last year she received a graduate certificate in biomedical informatics from Oregon Health Sciences University.

In 1988 she joined Mentor Graphics as a manager of technical documentation, then a senior QA engineer. And in 1996 she went to work at MedicaLogic (Hillsboro, OR), which was acquired by GE Healthcare.

Smith began with GE as a systems engineer in clinical IT. She was involved in software development projects related to the Centricity electronic medical records (EMR) application. She gained extensive experience in software QA, requirements design and software development processes, as well as focus group studies, PM and team leadership.

In addition to her EMR application, Smith has worked on a Java-based Web-enabled charting tool, prescribing tool for PDAs, a secure clinical messaging system and a Web-based reporting interface with the clinical data warehouse.

She notes that IT is a good fit with her background in biology and the sciences. "Clinical skills really do matter," she emphasizes. "People with a pure CS background struggle to understand what the clinicians are trying to accomplish with this software."

Anuj Agrawal directs apps development for United Health
Anuj Agrawal.

Anuj Agrawal.

For the past year, Anuj Agrawal has been director of applications development at the Basking Ridge, NJ facility of United Health Group (UHG, Minnetonka, MN). His job is to support the business-to-business engine, which lets UHG's customer companies submit coverage-related changes electronically. He also adds enhancements to the engine, and scales it periodically to handle the volume as UHG grows and the amount of inputted data increases.

Agrawal was born in India but grew up in Singapore, where his father taught marine engineering. English is the main language in Singapore, and Agrawal and his brother didn't speak it when they arrived, but now they consider it their native language.

Set on following his father's footsteps into engineering, Agrawal changed his mind when he discovered computers, he says with a laugh. He received his BSME from the National University of Singapore in 1994. But when he got to the University of Missouri he began to work toward a 1996 MSCS with an emphasis in telecom.

He began his IT career in network modeling at a consulting group that did contract work for the U.S. military. Then he spent two years at the Cittone Institute in New Jersey, teaching Java Script, HTML, SQL, Sapphire Web and related technologies. Next he joined a telecom consulting group, taking lead roles in applications development.

In 2003 Agrawal moved to UHG. His first position was lead developer/architect with the application architecture team. He redesigned apps and worked with his team to make decisions about software redesign.

Then he took over technical management of the development group. He reorganized the team, got involved with QA, made technical decisions and was also part of the ops and maintenance team, the first-tier troubleshooters on software issues.

"Senior management here is very good about recognizing hard work and conscientious employees, which leads to a good work environment," he says. "Being a minority has an added advantage because I feel I can communicate better with our offshore resources."

Agrawal speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently and is re-learning Hindi, in part to preserve his Indian heritage for his baby daughter and young son.

Karin Neuvirth is a senior programmer at Mayo Clinic
Karin Neuvirth.

Karin Neuvirth.

Karin Neuvirth, a senior programmer for Mayo Medical Laboratories at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN), has never moved far from home. She grew up in southeast Minnesota, where her parents owned a dairy farm.

She took her job at Mayo in 2004. It involves writing and designing code for apps that support medical lab tests ordered by non-Mayo hospitals. Most of the apps she has worked on are written in Java.

Her last project was developing an application for tracking specimens from the time they leave the client to the time they arrive at a Mayo Clinic lab for testing. Right now she's working on a master protocol log program to support test studies.

Neuvirth graduated from Winona State University (Winona, MN) in 1996 with a BSCS. She started in English but soon moved to CS. Later she interned at Technology Concepts (Rochester, MN), where she developed apps for the realtors multiple listing service.

After college she got a job with Candle Corp (Rochester, MN), writing system monitoring software for computer networks. She moved on to develop data warehousing apps at Coglin Mill (Rochester, MN), then to Kingland Systems (Rochester, MN) where she wrote brokerage apps for financial institutions.

In ten years in IT, Neuvirth has obtained experience in a wide variety of technologies and applications. She has two teenage sons, and expects to stay at Mayo at least until they graduate from high school. Then it will be time to reevaluate her career plans, she says.

Praveen Palepu of Misys: med records software for MDs
Praveen Palepu.

Praveen Palepu.

Praveen Palepu, a native of India, originally began working for Misys Healthcare Systems (Raleigh, NC) in 1998. Misys provides healthcare-related software and services, and Palepu was a consultant doing software coding, design and writing. He moved into a permanent job in 1999.

Today Palepu is a senior software engineer, leading a five-techie team that designs and writes software and troubleshoots medical records software for doctors and hospitals.

Palepu's father was a civil engineer in the Indian government. Praveen knew in high school that he wanted to be an EE, and later decided he wanted to work with software. He graduated from the CRR College of Engineering at India's Andhra University in 1995, and is currently working on his MBA at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In his junior year in India, Palepu wrote a program to interpret EKG signals as a school project. He found the project interesting, and decided to take a job in the healthcare field if he could.

He worked for half a year at Microcon Instruments and Systems Ltd (Bangalore, India), then moved to Satyam Computer Services Ltd (Bangalore, India) for three years before taking the consultant position at Misys.

Palepu knows several Indian languages, which he uses when interacting with the Misys branch office in India. British English is spoken in India, so Palepu had to adjust to different words and accents when he moved to the U.S. He would like to own his own business one day, but for now he's enjoying what he's doing and working to improve his skills.

Mildré V.E. Wampler directs Cigna's enterprise data architecture
Mildré Wampler.

Mildré Wampler.

Mildré V.E. Wampler believes her MBA is the key to the diversification of her career, which eventually led to important work in healthcare IT. Today she's a senior director of enterprise data architecture in the enterprise technology division of Cigna (Bloomfield, CT).

Her job involves evolving and stewarding vision, strategy, principles and standards for enterprise data architecture, getting management and business partners to agree, and propagating the new versions throughout the company.

Wampler is African American and Puerto Rican. She was raised by her grandmother, who was a college professor and then a teacher of special-needs children in Indianapolis, IN. "My grandmother was my role model," she says. "She believed education would open doors to my future."

Wampler landed a full scholarship to Butler University (Indianapolis, IN), and collected her BSCS summa cum laude in 1985.

During her last two years of college she worked fulltime for American Insurance Exchange (Indianapolis, IN) as a programmer analyst. When she graduated she joined HAS Consultants (Indianapolis, IN) as a systems consultant, doing analysis, design and implementation in connection with the company's contract engineering services. The next year she worked at Jefferson National Life (Indianapolis, IN) as a systems analyst.

In 1990 she moved to Conseco (Indianapolis, IN) as an enterprise architect and supervisor of apps support. She was responsible for the group working on office automation and emerging technologies and supported client/server solutions, data warehousing, groupware apps and training. The company financed Wampler's 1991 MBA from Indiana University.

"Conseco turned my career around with the leadership development that was provided. I learned to weigh my options instead of letting things happen to me," Wampler declares.

In 1994 Wampler went to work at Software Artistry Inc (now IBM Tivoli, Indianapolis, IN). As a development product manager, she designed and implemented a cross-platform data model for a product that supported Oracle, MS SQL Server, Sybase, Informix and DB/2 RDBMS engines, and worked on other customer support products. In 1997 she joined Anthem BCBS Inc (Indianapolis, IN) as director of technology strategy and distributed architecture.

In 1999 she began a quick succession of jobs: assistant VP of distributed architecture and enterprise strategy at Cigna Property & Casualty (Philadelphia, PA); technology VP at CG Interactive (now Half.com, Philadelphia, PA); and CTO and e-business digital strategist at IQ Group (Philadelphia, PA). In 2000 she joined Independence Blue Cross (Philadelphia, PA) as chief architect for enterprise architecture, and in 2005 she took her current position at Cigna.

All those jobs helped Wampler hone her knowledge and IT skills. She believes that women are natural multi-taskers and adapt to change better than men, and her career is certainly a demonstration of that philosophy.

Today she's enjoying being a part of the innovations at Cigna, and watching her son Jon, now eleven, grow up. "This is the first company I've worked at where balance is part of the work culture. They even have a coach to help you with life and work changes," she says happily.

Cigna, she notes, recently received an award from the National Business Group on Health, recognizing its work in promoting healthy lifestyles. "Our program is called Healthy Life, and it combines health, wellness and work/life programs."

Alfonso Perez: software manager at BCBS-FL
Alfonso Perez.

Alfonso Perez.

Alfonso Perez grew up in Venezuela where his parents were both university professors. He and his three sisters spoke Spanish at home.

IT attracted him because the job market was good, and he felt his background in music would be a natural base for a career in software development. IT and music both rely on patterns, he explains. He attended Francisco de Miranda University in Venezuela and got his bachelors in CS in 1987.

A friend who worked at Canon in California recruited him for a job there, and he completed his 1997 BS in computer IS at Chapman University (Orange, CA). After that, Perez worked for several Fortune 500 companies.

He began at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Florida (BCBS-FL) in 2004 as an applications architect, a position he held for six months before he became a manager. His current job involves creating software that fits between the business applications and the infrastructure.

The software he writes helps users access electronic data to validate claims and obtain electronic payment.

Besides his regular job, Perez is on the company's diversity council. Part of his work there is to help developers build their software to accommodate users in a variety of markets, or sometimes to localize the software for a specific market.

"Diversity brings out communication differences and it's interesting to see how we can all work together effectively," he notes. "Diversity is not a barrier. We've learned in the workforce to be open-minded and leverage our differences."

Perez, who is married with three children, hopes to continue to grow his career at BCBS. He considers the company his home now.

Susan Ludwig: account exec at Perot Systems
Susan Ludwig.

Susan Ludwig.

Susan Ludwig has worked in healthcare for more than twenty years. She climbed the corporate ladder to her position today as an account exec for Perot Systems (Plano, TX), a consulting firm with a significant healthcare practice.

Ludwig grew up in Orange County, CA with four brothers and two sisters. Her father was a marketing director for Toshiba.

In 1981, right after high school, Ludwig went to work in patient accounting for National Medical Enterprises (now Tenet). She worked at several of the group's California hospitals over the next ten years.

In 1992 she completed a BS in healthcare admin at California State University-Long Beach. "College was a personal goal for me. I already had a lot of on-the-job experience, and the schoolwork allowed me to make a true integration of what I had already learned," she says.

Armed with her degree she moved to an IT job at Childrens Hospital of Orange County (Orange, CA). She joined St. Joseph Health System in 1997, and transitioned to work for Perot Systems when St. Joseph outsourced its IT there in 2000.

Ludwig began her career at Perot Systems as an apps manager. She was responsible for building a team to support the Medi-Tech application.

Three months later she became an enterprise application director, responsible for overseeing five teams that provided application support across the twelve hospitals in the St. Joseph Health System.

In 2001 Ludwig was appointed program management officer in charge of large-scale project implementation of software. She became a service area leader in 2003, concentrating on the Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) account and working with a service delivery team to support twenty-one of its forty-two hospitals.

In 2004 Ludwig moved to her current client executive position on Perot System's St. Joseph Health System account (Anaheim, CA).

She's responsible for overseeing Perot Systems service delivery across St. Joseph's twelve hospitals, including infrastructure support, apps support for clinical and business, the 24/7 helpdesk, and the program management office. She must communicate effectively with 300 associates in various hospital locations, and also promote executive relationships and serve as liaison between St. Joseph and Perot Systems.

"I work with a diverse group of people and enjoy it very much," says Ludwig. She explains that she's not a "true techie," but came up through the ranks by understanding the business. "When you understand the customer's business, it's a good opportunity to go into IT and deliver service," she says.

"I've had so much opportunity with Perot Systems. I am continuing to build my career as a client executive and hope to work on startup accounts and larger, more complex accounts."


Laura Gater is a freelance business and medical/ healthcare writer based in northeast Indiana.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
Aetna, Inc
(Hartford, CT)
Healthcare, dental, pharmacy, group life,disability and long-term-care insurance
Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
(Chicago, IL)
Membership services for independently owned insurance companies
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida
(Jacksonville, FL)
Healthcare insurance, HMO, PPO plans
(Philadelphia, PA)
Healthcare, life, accident and disability insurance
GE Healthcare
(Waukesha, WI)
Medical imaging and IT, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, disease research, drug discovery
GE Healthcare Integrated IT Solutions
(Barrington, IL)
Clinical and financial IT solutions
Health Care Service Corp
(BC/BS of IL, TX, NM and OK, Chicago, IL)
www.bcbsil.com, www.bcbstx.com, www.bcbsnm.com, www.bcbsok.com
Healthcare insurance
Mayo Clinic
(Rochester, MN)
Interdisciplinary medical practice; hospitals, medical school, research facility and for-profit lab services
Misys Healthcare Systems
(Raleigh, NC)
Healthcare software and services
Perot Systems
(Plano, TX)
Healthcare financing and delivery solutions; business and clinical process solutions; technology outsourcing
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
(Memphis, TN)
Research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases
United Health Group
(Minnetonka, MN)
Network-based healthcare services, IT services, specialty health services and ancillary care networks

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