Katie Eichman graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) from UW-Green Bay last December. Since then, she passed the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification exam and landed a job as a coding specialist at BayCare Health Systems. We asked Katie about her experience in the online UW HIMT program and how it jumpstarted her career. She gave us the full story.
First things first—tell us about your new position!
My job title is coding specialist. At BayCare Health Systems, I will be responsible for reviewing patient charts and assigning codes to symptoms and diagnoses. I worked with coders in a real workplace setting during the final UW HIMT course, the capstone project. So the knowledge and experience I gained from that project translates very well to my new position.
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How did you first become interested in health information management?
I was always interested in healthcare, but I knew direct patient interaction wasn’t for me. After pursuing industrial design for a few years in college, I found the UW HIMT program and was immediately intrigued. I wanted to learn more about how technology was incorporated into healthcare and how it made an impact on patient care and outcomes. Once I started my first semester in the UW HIMT bachelor’s program, I knew a health information management (HIM) career was the perfect fit for me.
How have you benefited from your degree?
My University of Wisconsin HIMT degree prepared me for working in many different areas of the HIMT field. That’s why this degree is so sought-after by employers. And because my degree is so comprehensive, I was able to apply and be considered for a wide range of jobs in the Green Bay area. I feel very lucky to have so many career opportunities right in my own hometown.
Also, the HIM track of the UW HIMT program offered by UW-Green Bay is accredited by CAHIIM, so I was able to sit for the RHIA exam before graduation. I passed the exam! Having this credential definitely gave me an edge when applying for jobs. In fact, I don’t think I would have been considered for my coding specialist position without the RHIA credential.
What were your favorite classes, and why?
Both HIMT 370: Healthcare Systems: Analysis and Design and HIMT 410: Healthcare Systems: Implementation and Integration were very beneficial classes. We worked through semester-long projects that simulated the timeline of EHR installation.
Each week in these two courses, we tackled a new challenge that required us to apply skills we learned. This approach was really different than memorizing the material and taking quizzes—applying the material to real-life situations helped me understand it.
In other classes, we used technologies such as NEEHR Perfect (an EHR simulation) and Mini Tab (statistics software). That was great, because employers really want to see that you are familiar with EHR systems.
Describe your capstone project. How did it help prepare you for your career?
My capstone project was one of the most rewarding experiences in the UW HIMT program. This was the first time I worked in healthcare, so the project brought to life many of the terms and ideas I had learned in the coursework.
I completed my project at St. Agnes Hospital, and it consisted of compiling a list of LCD coding errors and examining different trends within the data. To do this, I used many skills I developed through coursework, especially data mining and SQL. Using Microsoft SQL, I created a database containing all the LCD coding errors within the calendar year and wrote queries that uncovered different patterns in the data. I was able to easily determine which codes produced the most errors, which codes specific employees were having trouble with, how long it was taking on average to correct the errors, and more.
I presented these findings to the staff and the managers I worked with, who used the information to determine where additional staff training may be needed. Completing the capstone project also exposed me to different technologies such as Cerner Power Charts and encoder software. I added these skills to my resume and talked about the work I did during my capstone in interviews.
Another beneficial part of completing the capstone was job shadowing. I worked with clerks, coding specialists, and HIM managers. This gave me important insight into where I would like to head in my career.
What was it like as an adult in an online degree program?
Beginning the UW HIMT program online, I was nervous that I would not get the full classroom experience; however, that was not the case. Earning a degree online allowed me to work, continue my normal day-to-day routine, and still take a full load of classes. I ended up preferring the online method, because I could re-watch lectures and review material that I didn’t completely understand the first time.
Also, I was excited to become a Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society member. Not only was I recognized for my hard work in classes, it also gave me the opportunity to connect with the UW-Green Bay campus on a regular basis. Going to campus was always an option for online HIMT students, which was a good feeling.
You are RHIA certified. What was the certification process like?
The RHIA certification exam was difficult, but I was very proud that I passed on my first attempt—prior to graduation. Doing this allowed me to start applying for jobs sooner than if I had waited to sit for the exam. I spent three months preparing for the exam. I purchased various study guides and made flashcards to study with on a regular basis.
To students interested in sitting for the RHIA exam, here’s what I recommend: Purchase these guides early on in the program and take special note of things in the guide that you don’t understand or things that sound familiar from the prep work you do in your classes.
Being an RHIA is huge. It solidifies all of the knowledge I learned in the UW HIMT program and proves to employers that I have expertise in many different HIM areas.
Are you interested in the online University of Wisconsin HIMT bachelor’s degree? Start exploring the program.