Tech-friendly industries

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.

Tech-friendly industries

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Wanted: An uncommon skill set

However viable it may be to follow a path from traditional IT into healthcare IT, be warned that healthcare, as a helping profession, also requires soft skills. "When I'm hiring, I've rejected people who were highly qualified because they didn't have the right attitude," says Kaiser Permanente's Thornhill. "I've also hired people who had the right attitude but not the right experience."

What's the right attitude in healthcare? Rush University's Tran says simply, "I'm looking for the willingness to learn, and the willingness to work in a collaborative environment."

Collaboration comes up frequently in conversations with healthcare IT executives.

"In both healthcare and IT, we talk in complex code," says Texas Children's Hospital's Davis. "It helps to have a collaborative atmosphere where clinical people can explain to technical people about why clinical things are important, as well as having technical people who can explain why technical things are complex. And they have to do those levels of translation without making someone feel like they're dumb or illiterate," Davis says. "I look for someone who's willing to partner, to explain, to translate into language that the recipient can understand."

Besides collaborators, "I look for people who are extremely analytical," says Davis. "When you're presented with situations that aren't easy to fix, you must be analytical enough to solve them. The answers aren't black and white. The more clinical integration you're called upon to do, the more critical problem-solving skills become."

Showalter believes that healthcare IT practitioners also have to have a strong foundation in change management. "The biggest barrier in getting physicians to change their practice is convincing them they weren't already doing the best thing for patients, when they think they were," he explains. "You have to move a group of end users who are highly educated, who have a long history of giving patient care and adopting technology slowly."

That means having the skills to analyze current workflows and future workflows and explain clearly how it's going to change. "You have to work with doctors and nurses and clinicians through the process of accepting change," Showalter says.

Healthcare IT's single biggest benefit

There is one other factor about healthcare that comes up repeatedly in career conversations. "People see it as a stable industry," says Linda Hodges, managing partner for the IT Practice at medical executive recruiter Witt/Kieffer, based in Oak Brook, Ill. "But people like it because it gives them the opportunity to help people. When I moved into healthcare, I felt like I had a purpose. Sometimes, people come to enjoy that so much, they don't want to go back into other industries."

Reed adds, "A lot of millennials want to work in an industry that's doing good things. That's a significant motivator for a lot of people." Nor does it hurt, he says, that an aging population will be accessing the healthcare system more frequently. "Because of that, there's going to be more demand, more opportunity and more long-term career sustainability."

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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