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How to get a job in healthcare IT

Electronic records. Digital and wireless medical devices. Healthcare reform. Aging population. All signs point to healthcare as a stable, long-term choice for IT careers.

By Howard Baldwin
October 10, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Looking for an industry with long-term stability for your IT career? There's probably no safer bet than healthcare. Redwood City, Calif.-based recruiting firm Robert Half Technology tracked the top five fastest-growing industries in the United States in nine separate regions in 2012; in seven of the nine regions, healthcare ranked first or second, and it was third in the other two regions. And in four of those regions, the associated industry of medical technology showed up as well.

[Editor's Note: How to get a job in healthcare IT is one in a series of Computerworld articles looking at how IT professionals can find work in specific industries with growth potential. See also articles on financial IT, energy IT, and manufacturing IT. ]

Likewise, in its 2012 survey, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives reported that average salaries for senior healthcare IT positions ranged from $128,193 for directors of IS or IT up to $310,326 for CIOs. (According to Salary.com, the comparative average salary across all IT verticals is higher for a director of IT but lower for a CIO.)

And current rates are trending in the $400,000 range for chief medical information officers, executives who combine both medical and informatics degrees, according to medical executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, based in Oak Brook, Ill.

If those quantitative measures aren't enough for you, consider the qualitative evidence. Healthcare, perhaps more than any other industry, is beset by change -- with a lot of mandated by new laws and regulations that can only efficiently be implemented through technology. Add to that the increasing use of electronic medical records (EMRs), digital and wireless medical devices and a bulge in the aging population, and healthcare's viability as a career couldn't be clearer.

Of course, making the move into healthcare IT may not be as simple as picking up a phone to start interviewing. Healthcare IT is as complex as healthcare itself. In many cases, it requires special skills -- and not all of them are technical. And the benefits are a little different from other IT jobs too. "The one thing I truly enjoy about my work is that I make a difference," says Joel Thornhill, a regional IT test manager for Kaiser Permanente. "What we do in IT impacts people's lives. That gives me a good sense of satisfaction."

Joel Thornhill
What we do in IT impacts people's lives. That gives me a good sense of satisfaction.
Joel Thornhill, Kaiser Permanente

Ready for some feel-good vibes of your own? Read on to learn what kind of skills you need for healthcare IT, and the best way to break into this vibrant vertical industry.

An industry in deep disruption

If you think IT is rife with acronyms, you ain't seen nothing yet. In addition to having to master clinical lingo, healthcare IT professionals are currently struggling to implement jargon-heavy programs like Meaningful Use, ICD-10 and Accountable Care Organizations. (For explainers, see Healthcare IT's alphabet soup.)

Add in pressures to keep medical costs down and the rollout of new hospital- and home-based medical devices that employ digital and wireless technology and support telemedicine, and you've got an industry in upheaval, facing change from multiple directions.



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