For almost a decade, Brenda Tyczkowski has held the roles of academic and program director of the online University of Wisconsin Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) program. In the UW HIMT program, Brenda’s teaching emphasis includes U.S. Healthcare Systems and Quality Improvement. With an impressive educational background (diploma in nursing from Bellin College, BSN from UW-Green Bay, MSN in nursing administration from UW Oshkosh, and DNP from University of Kansas), Brenda also serves as an associate professor for the Professional Program in Nursing at UW-Green Bay.
However, Brenda’s path into HIMT wasn’t direct. Her academic and program director roles are thanks to a mixture of passion, open mindedness, hard work, and happenstance. In the following Q&A, Brenda talks about how she got to where she is today, tips for HIMT students preparing for the RHIA certification exam, and advice for finding your passion:
Q: How Did You Get Into Healthcare?
I knew that I wanted to get into healthcare for quite some time. I did a lot of reading as a child, and I got really intrigued with a book series about a nurse called Cherry Ames. I could see myself in that setting. And it fell in line with my interests in science and math, so it just felt like a good fit.
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Q: YOU’VE EARNED MANY ADVANCED DEGREES. WAS THAT ALWAYS THE PLAN OR DID YOU DO THAT AS YOU WENT?
I did that as I went. I knew that I wanted to have a bachelor’s degree and started right away. Then, I jumped right back in to earn my master’s. That decision was sparked by some things that happened in the workplace. I had a manager who handled situations very poorly. I decided that I would be a better manager, but I had no background in it, and I knew I needed to learn. So, I worked on my master’s in organizational leadership and started working as a hospital supervisor very early in my career. I have pretty much held management positions ever since.
Q: NOW YOU ARE AN ACADEMIC AND PROGRAM DIRECTOR, AS WELL AS A FACULTY MEMBER OF THE UW HIMT PROGRAM. HOW AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO THAT DIRECTION?
It’s actually a funny story. My nursing manager at the time was supposed to attend a meeting in Madison, Wisconsin to talk about working with the UW HIMT collaborative program, but she couldn’t make it and asked me to go instead. And the rest is history. When I got back from the meeting, I was so enthused about joining the collaborative program, and my manager said that it really wasn’t an area of interest for her. And it clearly was to me. So off I went.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE UW HIMT PROGRAM PIQUED YOUR INTEREST?
When I was a hospital supervisor early in my career, I worked the evening shift, and there was nobody covering the medical records department at that time. If somebody came into the emergency room and they needed an old set of records, I had to run down to the records room and figure it out. Then the hospital started up with a homegrown electronic health records (EHR) system, which was unheard of back in 1981.
In 1989, I became director of nurses at a nursing home, and it was rare to have EHRs in that setting at the time. Over the years, I teamed up with an EHR company and built the nursing home’s entire care plan section of the EHR and helped figure out how it fit with the rest of the system. Then, I eventually went to work for the EHR company.
When I started working for the EHR company, we had 30 clients across the U.S., mostly in the Midwest. And about seven years later, by the time I left, we had 300 clients. So, my entire nursing career involved using EHRs. And because of that I really have a love for all things HIMT.
Q: A COUPLE YEARS AGO YOU SAT FOR THE REGISTERED HEALTH INFORMATION ADMINISTRATOR (RHIA) CERTIFICATION EXAM. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE?
When I started with the UW HIMT program, I didn’t have a formal background in HIMT. I had informal roles over the years centered around EHRs and leadership aspects which helped, but I had to go back to school to work on the RHIA to become more qualified for this role.
What helped me the most was taking the mock exams seriously to understand what areas I needed to beef up. If I had a good score on one, I would not go back and study that material at all. I would instead shift and focus on the areas that were harder and really needed my attention.
Q: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR TAKING THE RHIA?
You might have been out of school for a while and coming back to a test environment can be challenging. Be aware of that environment that you’re going to be in, because it’s a high stakes exam. You give fingerprints and it’s proctored with a timer ticking in front of you. Really picture yourself in that setting. I don’t say this to freak you out about it, but it’s better to prepare for the mindset you need instead of being caught off guard.
Q: WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR ROLEs IN UW HIMT?
I teach one course (HIMT 310: Healthcare Systems and Organizations) that students typically take at the beginning of the program. It’s rewarding to help them get settled in, find their way around, and get a feel for how things roll. Then, I also teach a course that students typically take toward the end of the program (HIMT 430: Quality Assessment and Improvement), and it’s really fun for me to see how much they’ve grown over the program and how confident they tend to be as they wrap up their degree.
Q: WHAT DO YOU WANT PROSPECTIVE UW HIMT STUDENTS TO KNOW?
One of the real advantages of the program is that it gives you a feel for so many HIMT roles. You are not locked into one career path. Of course, you can start out with a clear picture of where you want to go, but let the courses speak to you as you progress through the curriculum and be open to find your own niche in areas that really tap into your interests.
If you had told me when I started out as a nurse that I would find my way into the HIMT world, I would have said, “No way!” But, the truth is, you’re not really going to know what speaks to you until you try it and give yourself space to think it through and figure out what feels good and what feels challenging. Don’t be afraid to explore.
Would you like to explore University of Wisconsin Health Information Management and Technology, a degree that prepares you for the growing field of health information? If so, download a degree guide to learn more or contact an enrollment adviser at 1-877-UW-LEARN (895-3276) or firstname.lastname@example.org.