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Filling the skills gap

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   By Kurt Linberg, March 2012

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College of St. Scholastica expands healthcare IT education offerings.

I’m the dean of a business school whose graduates often work in rural communities. My faculty and I have had to think outside the box to help our students succeed in difficult times. It has meant teaching them to be resourceful, to maximize a host of transferable skills and to be more flexible than ever just to find work.

That is why we collaborated with The College of St. Scholastica’s School of Health Sciences faculty to offer our business students specific skills in healthcare administration, health information management and informatics. These are key skills that will help fill the gap in the industry.

Our faculty members work with rural health IT providers, clinics and hospitals to get those businesses up to speed on a number of initiatives. The topics range from aiding meaningful-use achievement and ICD-10 transition to consulting on recovery audit contractor (RAC) programs and creating security solutions for IT databases.

Private companies tell us they would love to tackle these projects in-house but they just can’t find the skilled staff, so they have outsourced to independent service providers. It was natural for us to open up a path for students to move into this industry.

As such, The College of St. Scholastica now offers a specialization in healthcare administration in both traditional and online formats as part of the bachelor’s degree in management, as well as a graduate specialization in healthcare leadership in our MBA and master of arts in management programs. We’re marrying these very specific specializations with an approach that cultivates flexibility and transferable skills. It’s an exciting way to match the emerging demands of the health IT industry.

Practical application of refined skills
Our graduates and faculty have been asked to help clinics and care providers implement meaningful use as a strategy to balance tight budgets. For example, we helped a large clinic network develop electronic health record (EHR) templates to aid in the capture of the data elements required for achieving meaningful use, but when we asked if they had considered merging that meaningful-use project with the work they were doing related to the ICD-10 transition, they admitted they simply didn’t have the skilled personnel to make that happen.

This means, because of the skills gap, that the network may have to spend more time and more money combining their meaningful-use implementation with their ICD-10 implementation at a later stage. The potential for people with the right skills to be able to take on such projects and become a valued asset is phenomenal.

Companies not doing more to further educate their staff will likely not be able to compete in the future. Many jobs that need to be filled are new. We know of some rural clinic networks that have created entirely new administrative departments in the last 18 months just to cope with increased Medicare administrative regulation. Training people to work in those new focus areas will help create tomorrow’s leaders in this field.

Whole new careers
Many people working in clinics or hospitals have never been trained in new health IT practices and may be languishing in reduced roles because they lack the right qualifications to move up. It doesn’t benefit anyone to leave competent and motivated employees hitting their head on a glass ceiling created by an inadequate education.

Something has to give.

Education takes time, and the new implementations – EHRs, meaningful use, ICD-10 – will not wait for the workforce to catch up. That is why we’re committed to making education in this (and every) area more accessible.

That translates to offering more online programs and creating more flexible teaching schedules so people can work and learn at the same time. We’ve done this with our new focus on healthcare administration. The days of 9-to-5 schooling in the classroom are over for many of us, and, while that makes our job more challenging, we have to work with the needs of our students.

Ultimately, we all need to help out in the balancing act between the industry, the speed of changes and the ability to further everyone’s careers if we are to fill jobs and close the skills gaps in health IT and administration.   

About the author

Kurt Linberg is dean of the School of Business & Technology at The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, Minn. For more on The College of St. Scholastica, click here.


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