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Education Filling the skills gap

College of St. Scholastica expands healthcare IT education offerings. By Kurt Linberg


’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 diffi cult times. It has meant teaching them to be resourceful, to maximize a host of transferable skills and to be more fl exible than ever just to fi nd work.

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

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:

Our faculty members work with rural health IT providers, clinics and hospitals to get those busi-

nesses 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 fi nd 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 spe- cialization in healthcare administration in both traditional and online formats as part of the bachelor’s degree in man- agement, as well as a graduate specialization in healthcare leadership in our MBA and master of arts in management programs. We’re marrying these very specifi c specializations with an approach that cultivates fl exibility and transferable skills. It’s an exciting way to match the emerging demands of the health IT industry.

Practical application of refi ned 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 re-

22 March 2012

quired 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 fi lled are new. We know of some rural clinic networks that have created entirely new administra- tive 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 fi eld.

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 qualifi cations to move up. It doesn’t benefi t 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 work- force 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 fl exible 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 fi ll jobs and close the skills gaps in health IT and administration.


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