Heather Smith always wanted to be a nurse.
She started the nursing program at UW-Green Bay and, shortly after, joined the Army National Guard to do patient administration training. But something unexpected happened: she injured her back and was medically discharged from the Army. Unable to do heavy lifting, a nursing career was impossible.
Instead of giving up on healthcare, the UW graduate followed her passion for patient care to another field: health information management (HIM). And today, she absolutely loves her job as an analyst at Green Bay Oncology.
A New Beginning in HIM
After the injury, “it was like starting over,” says Heather, a De Pere, Wis. native. “I wanted to stay in healthcare, so I searched for other majors and came across the UW Health Information Management and Technology program. It was similar to what I did in the Army.”
Heather started the University of Wisconsin Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) program in 2013, specializing in health information management.
She says courses in the HIM track were challenging and covered a little of everything—electronic medical record (EMR) concepts, coding, medical terminology, project management, and leadership. “I came out of the program a very well-rounded professional.”
Proud to Be an Online Student
“When I told people I was working and going to school full time, they didn’t believe me. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
Since sitting in lectures was difficult after her injury, online courses were necessary but also a better fit. “I enjoyed online courses more, because I could work at my own pace rather than someone else’s.”
Her typical weekday was: work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; get home and study until 7 p.m. Sticking to this schedule left enough time to spend with her husband and dogs and to do things she loves. Heather plays sports, volunteers with the American Cancer Society, and competes in pageants (she ran for Mrs. Wisconsin last April).
Rewarding Work with Oncology EMRs and Patients
While in college, Heather was a receptionist at Green Bay Oncology, a position that helped get her foot in the door of the healthcare industry. Her supervisor found out she was earning an HIMT degree and offered her a full-time job as an analyst. “Normally, the position requires a bachelor’s degree, but my supervisor had a lot of faith in my abilities and education.”
Heather credits two HIMT technology courses in particular with helping her land the job—“Health Information and Technology—Data” and “Survey of Contemporary Computing”—because they introduced her to Microsoft Access databases and writing reports.
In her role as analyst, Heather is a jack-of-all-trades. “I run clinical and financial reports, handle all patient information, analyze data, and write reports on trends. I also help with EMR training and work with the health IT department. The clinic simply can’t function without me, and that’s a very rewarding feeling.”
What is it like working in oncology? “People assume it’s a very sad field. Honestly, it was difficult at first. But over time, I saw how much hope the clinic and new treatments give patients. I feel a calling to care for people who are going through this really scary experience.”
As a receptionist, Heather says she laughed and cried with patients and their families. She was worried that when she started her HIM career, she might lose that connection.
“Actually, I interact with patients all the time to get their input and find out how to improve the clinic. Patients are so thankful for the care we give—even to me, an analyst working in the background.”
Capstone Project Expanded Her Skills
For her final HIMT course, the capstone experience, Heather approached her supervisor and asked if she could complete the hands-on, semester-long project at Green Bay Oncology. The clinic recently aligned with a larger hospital system, so for her project, Heather was in charge of organizing all the data and documentation to prepare for migration to the hospital server.
“Sounds simple, but our servers contain a tremendous amount of information,” Heather says. “I managed the project completely, often meeting with all departments and informing them about what I was doing.”
Even though she already had a health information job at the time, Heather is glad she was required to complete the capstone. “It completely opened my eyes to things that were outside my comfort zone, such as HIPAA compliancy. I never knew I was capable of finishing such a huge project.”
Bright Future Ahead
Heather graduated last May. From here, she has many options: grow in her current role and eventually become a senior analyst, or move to a different position at the clinic.
When asked if she wants to share anything else with readers, Heather says, “I want people to know this: I worked and went to school full time—and I graduated this program with honors. If you work hard and stay organized, you can definitely do it, too.”
To explore more about the online University of Wisconsin HIMT bachelor’s degree, start here. Then, speak with an adviser about whether this program is right for you. Call 1-877-895-3276 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.