Are certifications less crucial for healthcare IT jobs?

Some certifications can be baseline requirements for healthcare organizations

Timothy Stettheimer, CIO for St. Vincent's Health System in Birmingham, Ala., has more confidence in IT certifications than in referrals and in-person interviews when it comes to hiring.

"How do you know you're hiring a good person? You can get a referral, but so what? Someone can interview well, but so what? How do you really know?" Stettheimer said. "But when you can say, 'I've hit these [IT education] targets,' that shows a commitment to advancement."

He admits that some certifications get a bad rap, and are seen as useless or too granular. "I mean, how many Cisco certifications are there out there? I've lost count now. It's great for a technology-specialist-level profession, but for a leadership profession, it's not so helpful," he said. But Stettheimer believes that if you're not growing professionally, you're not doing your job.

Flush with federal funds and under the gun of federal regulatory deadlines, the healthcare industry is leading the market in IT jobs creation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' job placement services.

The bureau projects that IT jobs in healthcare are expected to grow by 20% per year through 2018, "much faster than average." There are currently 176,090 IT jobs in healthcare, according to the agency.

Since November 2009, the number of healthcare IT positions has increased by 67%, according to online job-search engine, which lists 7,200 open healthcare IT positions out of 4.9 million jobs on its website.

Continuing IT education is a passion for Stettheimer, who is a fellow with professional organizations such as the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). He is also certified through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Stettheimer refers to CHIME as the "scalpel" of healthcare executive organizations because it focuses on specific skill sets for healthcare CIOs. CHIME offers training in 13 key skill sets developed by 50 CIOs.

"Healthcare is the most information-intense and complex industry that I know of. I've worked in manufacturing ... but in terms of complexity and the impact of information ... I don't know anything that compares with healthcare," he said.

Stettheimer helped develop CHIME's CIO certification program and is also a teacher with the professional organization's CIO boot camp, an intensive two-and-a-half-day leadership course that has sold out for the past two years. The camp involves presentations, small group discussions, case studies and interactive problem solving.

Healthcare IT certification programs have two types of value, according to Stettheimer: They allow IT workers to benchmark where they are in terms of technology advancements, and they let CIOs, CTOs and other IT managers know that they're likely hiring a good employee.

Less pay for certifications

Labor research firm Foote Partners said additional pay for IT-specific certifications has been shrinking since 2008, while money for non-certified IT skills has steadily climbed.

Foote Partners tracks 502 IT-specific certification programs, measuring what additional money the market typically pays workers for those skills. The overwhelming majority of certifications tends to be vendor-driven, not industry-driven, according to Foote Partners.

Since 2008, incentive pay for specific certifications has decreased by 8.9%, while pay for non-certified IT skills has climbed 2.3%.

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