Healthcare IT pros forge
meaningful careers in a fast-growing field
They like working in areas that make a difference in people’s lives
“Demand for healthcare IT professionals is as high as it’s ever been.”
– Andrea Santiago, the Medicus Firm
By Skip Waugh
The healthcare sector of the U.S. is a relatively consistent economic performer. Couple that with the current push for technological advances to improve care, ensure patient safety and reduce costs, and the result is a sector rife with interesting opportunities for IT pros.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows monthly increases in health services jobs over the past year: nearly 300,000 new jobs for the year.
In 2008 the U.S. Congressional Budget Office published a study examining the impact of technological advances on healthcare spending. The conclusion was that these advances will likely yield new and more efficient medical devices and processes.
Pushing the demand
The growth in spending on healthcare IT will push the demand for quality IT pros to implement many of the advances. For example, the economic stimulus package passed early last year specifically earmarked healthcare IT. Experts expect that close to 50,000 new jobs may be created, and companies are currently revving up for a coming demand for talent in healthcare IT.
Andrea Santiago, a health careers guide at About.com and an employee of the Medicus Firm, a physician search company, says the outlook for healthcare IT is and will continue strong, largely owing to the growth of electronic medical records (EMR). “EMR is a very high priority for hospitals and practices that have not yet implemented it,” Santiago says. “The stimulus package included billions of dollars in funding for EMR, and the government announced that fines and financial penalties will be imposed for facilities not demonstrating ‘meaningful use’ of EMR by 2014 or shortly thereafter.”
Santiago adds that the overall healthcare industry is extremely diverse in culture and gender. “Anyone with the applicable background, experience and training in the IT field should do very well,” she believes. “But to be successful you have to be committed to continually learning and adapting to new processes, procedures and methodologies.”
Pat Pearman, global diversity manager for GE Healthcare, says, “As we
shift toward digital technologies and try to create a more paper-free environment, we will
see a rapid growth in the IT sector. The challenge is to have a clear understanding of the competencies required for the variety of jobs that will be created in the next five to ten years.”
Susan Gordon Barker leads the IMLP at GE Healthcare
Headquartered in the U.K., GE Healthcare is a $17 billion unit of General Electric Co. It delivers medical technologies and services for the new healthcare environment, and looks for IT leaders to implement its vision for the future.
The unit’s information management leadership program (IMLP) is headed by Susan Gordon Barker, who has been heavily involved with making IT so integral to GE Healthcare’s strategy. A major component of IMLP is the recruitment and retention of diverse talent.
Gordon Barker began her career twenty-five years ago in a program similar to GE’s current IMLP. She joined GE’s Medical Systems IT in 2001 to lead the integration of support services, heading up the global helpdesk, integration of legacy businesses, asset management and software maintenance.
Gordon Barker is a Wisconsin native. She received her BS in communications from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1979. Growing up in Milwaukee’s inner city she met Dr Joseph Mazza, then dean of communications at UW-Oshkosh. “I was a kid in a very tough environment, and he took me under his wing and knocked the chip off my shoulder,” she says. Dr Mazza is still Gordon Barker’s valued mentor today.
After completing her BS, Gordon Barker went on to the University of Nebraska for an MS
in organizational communication. In the early 1980s she moved into a supervisor training program at Allstate Insurance and became an ops manager. “Allstate taught me what it took to be a leader and manager,” she says. The training laid the groundwork for what she does today.
She worked for a pharmaceutical company as a sales rep for about a year. “I started back into the ops stuff when I realized I didn’t want to lug cases of product around in the snow anymore,” she notes.
She joined an Illinois location of insurance company Crum and Forster (Morristown, NJ) and was rotated through several other sites around the country. In 1988 she moved to American Express (Dallas, TX) as director of payment services.
She went back to Wisconsin in 1990 and landed a job with M&I Data Services, which later became Metavante Corp (Brown Deer, WI). She was ops manager for four years: “so long that I could do it with my eyes closed.” But she didn’t want work she could do with her eyes closed. Although her degree was in communications, IT intrigued her and she wanted to know more.
“I looked for females running technical organizations,” she says. She came across Helen Cealy, VP of Metavante’s network services division, and got her first role in IT. Eventually she became Metavante’s assistant VP for network services.
Then GE came calling. The CIO of GE Medical was looking for someone to run her support organization, and Gordon Barker joined in 2000, soon adding the work of transitioning some
of the support organization to India. She also led the effort to find the correct tool for the
asset management process, and investigated software maintenance using quality techniques and processes.
She moved on to head GE Healthcare’s IMLP, designed for interns and fulltime college students. Working with this population is very rewarding, she notes. “I like to think I’m having an effect on the value that these young people will bring to GE in a big way for the long term.” The program now covers enterprise solutions, transportation and aviation as well as GE’s healthcare divisions.
Gordon Barker still keeps up with the new technology and the workforce now entering the marketplace. She sees both technology and workers impacting healthcare. “We have and
are developing more products that will help the way our country is headed in healthcare.
GE Healthcare is well positioned to be part of the solution in a very positive way,” she says.
“From my perspective, I plan to continue developing young leaders in IT.”
Yun Meng is a software developer lead at Novant Health
Novant Health (Winston-Salem, NC) is an integrated healthcare system serving the people of Virginia and North and South Carolina. The organization operates ten hospitals in the region and more than 300 physician clinics, and has more than 26,000 employees including 1,000 physicians.
Yun Meng, currently a software developer lead for the company, began her career with a medical degree in China. Then she received a scholarship to attend med school at the University of Louisville (Louisville, KY). She studied pharmacology, received her PhD in 1994, and went on to post-doctoral training at the Medical College of Virginia, the medical school of Virginia Commonwealth University, where she studied the effects of drugs on animals.
But, “I was mostly doing behavioral studies and it was just not very interesting,” she explains. She did, however, find computers extremely interesting. “There are a lot of things you can do with computer programs,” she says.
When she and her husband moved to Charlotte, NC because of a change in his job, she went to work at a Microsoft office there, and began to expand her computer knowledge, supporting MS Access, Microsoft’s desktop DB application.
She joined the data management group of Novant Health IT as a consultant in 1999. At that time the company was smaller, with fewer employees and computer apps. “We supported some vendor applications to schedule surgeries and maintain staff time entries and medical records and transcriptions, and developed some custom applications,” she says. In 2000 Meng moved to a full-time position with Novant.
Novant is much larger now and has tripled its IT staff to support its changes and growth. Meng’s team is one of several teams in IT, with the primary responsibility of providing custom development for groups of users, which can be a department, several departments or a whole facility. “We develop apps for those groups based on their business needs. Most are Web-based database applications,” she says.
Meng’s job is a demanding one. “You can start the day with a full task list, and at the end of
the day you’ll see that none of those items got done because other things came up,” Meng notes with a smile. “My educational background allows me to understand the big picture while focusing on the small details.”
One project Meng is particularly proud of is the automation of Novant’s system security process. “Now just three or four people handle most of the security needs for 26,000 employees plus contractors and volunteers,” she notes.
Meng was the first IT person to be recognized as employee of the quarter across the whole Novant Health system. “It was a great honor,” she says.
Right now her group is working on an overall development strategy for the work team as part of the IT strategy. “Our goal is to make our development more efficient and find solid solutions to problems. Technology will play an even bigger role in day-to-day operations of hospitals,” she predicts.
Paul Wiles, president and CEO of Novant Health, notes that the system, which has won local and national awards for service excellence for patients, “is committed to creating a culture
that supports and encourages diversity.”
Anthony Scruggs is senior apps manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas
Health Care Service Corp is the fourth largest health insurance company in the country and the largest customer-owned health insurer. The company operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Illinois.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas is the state’s largest health coverage company, employing nearly 6,000 people. Among the 6,000 is Anthony Scruggs, a senior applications manager. Scruggs is a twenty-year veteran
in the IT field.
His first exposure to computers came in high school: “Pretty minor stuff compared with
today’s standards,” he says with a laugh. He took computer classes all through high school
and continued his interest at Park University (Parkville, MO), where he especially liked the development work.
He graduated in 1989 and went to work for DST Systems (Kansas City, MO), at the time a mutual fund transfer agency. A good choice, as it gave him a solid foundation for a career
He started in the company’s “boot camp,” putting in an eight-hour day for three months. “Almost everything we learned in college was thrown out the window!” Scruggs says. “We learned how to develop structured logic programming and how to interact with other areas of the business to get our product or software tested, validated, implemented and supported.”
In 1993 he went to work at Consultec (Tallahassee, FL), which supported Medicaid systems throughout the country and several state medical systems. He had total control of his apps
at Consultec, from gathering user requirements to taking development into production. “If I wanted to make a change based on a user request I could implement it by the end of the day,” he recalls with pride.
Toward the end of his tenure at Consultec he became lead supervisor, not only implementing but taking the risk for projects his team was developing. But after nearly five years at Consultec, Scruggs relocated to Dallas, TX, where he had always wanted to live. It was 1998 so Y2K projects were plentiful; he interviewed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and was hired on as a lead developer.
Six months later he became a supervisor there: “I had membership system background and training from my time at Consultec, so it wasn’t a big learning curve for me.” He supported customer interactions, and still does. Today he leads an electronic eligibility team of twenty-nine techies, working with electronic eligibility processing for some seven million members.
His team helps process membership updates and electronic transmissions related to demographic updates, benefit information and claims.
They are also working on a long-term Medicare secondary payer processing project, making sure Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas is receiving and exchanging Medicare data appropriately so claims can be processed. The work was projected to be completed this year, but pending healthcare reform may extend the deadline.
Scruggs’ typical day involves many meetings: on projects, with customers, and regularly with his technical staff.
This, he says, is “a very exciting time to work in healthcare because with change come new opportunities. The focus will be on making sure individuals receive services targeted to their needs, both health-wise and financially. Advances in technology will be a major driver related to reduction in costs.”
David Berkley is an IT project manager at Cardinal Health
Cardinal Health is one of the country’s largest distributors of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. It services hospitals, retail pharmacies, physicians’ offices and other healthcare providers. Starting as a regional distributor more than thirty years ago, it grew to the $96 billion company it is today.
David Berkley, an IT project manager at Cardinal Health, was always good at math and science. He thought engineering was the way to go when he entered Ohio State University, but, “The more I got into it, the more I found I didn’t really like it.”
At the end of his first year he had poor grades in everything but computer programming, which he loved and did well in. He earned a 1989 BS in business admin with a focus on IS.
His first job was as a programmer for the State of Ohio, in a quasi-judicial agency handling workers’ compensation claims. When Berkley started with the agency it had no automation or computer systems; although there were some 250,000 hearings a year, there was no good way to keep track of them. Berkley was part of the team that built and implemented a system to track all the claims that came through and schedule the hearings.
In 1997 Berkley moved to a local consulting firm which placed him with Cardinal Health (Dublin, OH). He worked as a contractor for two years and came in as a full-time programmer in 2000.
His skills moved with technology, from AS/400 to Oracle and then to Microsoft. “I found that the learning curve kept getting shorter,” he says. In 2003 he became a business analyst, a less technical job centered around writing requirements for systems and working with users. He was also involved in testing and making sure systems were working the way they were expected to.
“It was a big deal for me because I had to let some of my technical skills go,” he says. “But it ended up being a really good thing.”
From business analyst he moved on to project lead; now he’s a project manager and also continues to be an individual contributor. He recently got his Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute.
In addition to his regular work, Berkley is co-president of the LGBT Advocates employee resource group, which he helped establish. During Pride Month last June the group staffed a booth at a local Gay Pride festival: “It ended up being a great way to educate people about Cardinal Health,” Berkley says.
He notes that Cardinal Health scored a perfect 100 percent on the annual Corporate Equality Index produced by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. “I felt that our diversity inclusion group, and the LGBT/A group, played a big role in helping Cardinal Health earn that score,” Berkley says proudly.
Ora Yelvington is an inventory team manager at Walgreens
Founded in 1901, Walgreens (Chicago, IL) is a widely recognized name in pharmacy, health services and more. It continues to evolve technological
ways to be more efficient and customer-focused, and prides itself on a diverse workforce that is trained to meet and exceed customer expectations.
“Valuing diversity is simply the right thing to do. We must reflect the diversity of those we service,” says president and CEO Greg Wasson. “Diversity adds value to our company; it’s as simple as that.”
Ora Yelvington has been working since she was thirteen years old. When she entered Chicago State University (Chicago, IL) on a presidential scholarship she started working part-time for Walgreens. That, it turned out, is where she would spend most of her career.
During her last year in college she was offered an internship at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT, Chicago, IL). She took the opportunity, working in a small group on an application that would make it easier for hospital staff to read X-rays.
The application itself was written in C, which Yelvington had not studied. But she was excited about the new language, and “The internship gave me the chance to see how hospital applications work.”
She loved the work, and the pay was an eye-opener, too. “I thought, ‘Wow! If I get paid this well for an internship I can do well in IT!’” After the internship she continued on part-time at Walgreens.
When she graduated in 1989 she worked as a programmer analyst for a small publishing company in downtown Chicago. Then she learned that Walgreens was hiring at its corporate campus in the suburbs. Her previous Walgreens experience helped get her in for an interview, and she started her career in corporate IT in 1996 as a Walgreens programmer analyst.
To start, “I worked with a team of eight people who brought me up to speed through mentoring,” she says. She moved up to team lead after four years, heading a group of developers on the team responsible for the system used to forecast and order promotional items for Walgreens stores.
She moved to manager of the store-ordering system development team, which makes sure each store is stocked with basic merchandise, including drug and other items used in the pharmacy. “Our pharmacists are becoming providers of more healthcare services, like immunizations,” she notes.
For example, last fall Yelvington and many others worked to prepare Walgreens for the H1N1 flu season. “We in IT have to do a lot of ramp-up to ensure that pharmacists have everything they need to provide the vaccine to our customers,” she says.
Yelvington hopes to continue at Walgreens in increasingly responsible roles. She’s also enjoying her involvement in the company’s African American Achievement Group (AAAG). “The AAAG focuses on activities that enrich the employees and help the communities we serve,” she says. One focus is closing the digital divide. The group also helps mentor new African American employees on the corporate campus.
There are other business groups at Walgreens, for Asians, Hispanics, women, people with disabilities, and even a green group. “The groups make everyone feel they have a voice in the company,” Yelvington says.
She thinks IT is well positioned to make a difference at Walgreens. “We are working to take the burden off our pharmacists when it comes to administrative tasks like checking inventory and data entry. This will give them more time to serve and talk to customers. Our technology is doing that,” she says proudly.
Sheryl King is a senior software engineer at Boston Scientific
Boston Scientific Corp is probably the world’s largest medical device company. More than 25,000 employees work in its twenty-six manufacturing, distribution and technology centers, and its dozen businesses are dedicated to providing knowledge, products, services and cutting-edge technology in many medical areas.
Sheryl King, who is now working happily at Boston Scientific, started out to be a commercial pilot; she has a 1995 BS in aeronautical science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL). But times were bad in aviation, so she stayed on at Embry to get a 1999 MS in software engineering.
“The thing I liked most was that the software work offered immediate feedback,” she says. “You would go to the lab and see what you learned put into action.”
She did two summer internships in the St. Paul, MN office of Guidant Corp, working with a team of other Embry Riddle students on various tools used in testing. When she was hired on full time in 2000 she stayed in the same department, which is now the cardiac rhythm management group. She worked in a software maintenance group that managed updates and fixes required for the company’s pacemakers and defibrillators. She was a software engineer in the group until she went on maternity leave in 2002.
She returned in early 2003 to work on a product team writing software for physicians to use with implantable devices. In 2006 Boston Scientific Corp (Boston, MA) purchased Guidant,
and King continued on in the same group, enjoying the project management approach to her
A typical day for King begins with a series of meetings with employee teams, helping them
deal with issues and resolve roadblocks. After a morning of meetings, she works with systems engineers, marketing and others to resolve the issues she uncovered. She recently received her project management professional certification.
King is also involved in the company’s women’s network and black employee resource group.
Of all the challenges in healthcare IT, King thinks the biggest is keeping up with the technology. Nevertheless, “It makes me feel good knowing I am not just coding or writing design documents,” she says. “Each day I’m doing something that makes an impact. That keeps us all motivated.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED HEALTHCARE COMPANIES
See websites for latest openings.
|Company and location
|Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas
(Richardson, TX) www.bcbstx.com
|Boston Scientific Corp (Boston, MA)
|Cardinal Health (Dublin, OH)
|Pharmaceutical and medical supplies; medical
products; medication management
|GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI)
|Medical technologies and services
|Genentech (South San Francisco, CA)
|Novant Health (Winston Salem, NC)
|Healthcare provider and hospital system
|United Healthcare (Minnetonka, MN)
|Walgreens (Deerfield, IL)
|Pharmacy: prescriptions, health and wellness
products, health information services
|WellPoint (Indianapolis, IN)
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