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What makes an IT Professional?

June 4, 2008
by jlee
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Someone recently shared with me a discussion on the merits of certification as an indicator of expertise in healthcare IT. At the end of this month I’ll be finishing up a stint as a volunteer on the committee that administers the CPHIMS certification, so it’s a topic that interests me a lot- and one on which I have a pretty unique perspective.

It got me thinking about how we in healthcare IT identify ourselves and our colleagues as professionals. Do you get to be one because you call yourself one?

This is the first of two or three postings I plan over the next few days that will be musings on the subject.

I’m not going to link to the discussion that started me down this road for a couple of reasons…

One is that the opinions expressed weren’t very well informed, so as far as I’m concerned they don’t add much to the discussion. Plus, I’m really not interested in inflating the guy’s readership statistics. (If you’re curious, or just believe that you deserve punishment for sins committed in a past life, google a set of terms like “emr physician paranoia hubris” and it should come right up…)

The other point is that my main objective isn’t to play Alexander and Kilpatrick with some other blogger. Instead, I’d like to get people inside healthcare IT talking about our profession and about what credentials ARE important. How can we validate that we have, or the person we’re looking to hire has, the basic level of knowledge needed for the job?

Let’s start with the question of formal education.

My generation had very limited opportunity to study rigorous and relevant coursework related to IT in any flavor. The generation we learned from had virtually no opportunity whatsoever. (One of my mentors was a CPA by training.)

We are probably the last of the “accidental” IT professionals. My path in life took me from liberal arts (psychology, biology, English), to working for a medical practice, to managing a medical facility, and finally to IT. Since getting there, it’s continued to be a daily education- formally and informally- for the past 18 years.

Once I hit IT and found that I had an aptitude for it, I used to think “Boy, what could I have done if I’d taken just one computer course as an undergraduate? Then I would have recognized the direction my life should take.”

But then one day I heard a commercial where IBM was touting their introduction of the Personal Computer- in 1980. I graduated from college in 1979.

Had I come out of college as computer-boy- armed to the hilt with knowledge of COBOL and Fortran- I would have immediately seen the whole world change under my feet. I’d like to think I would have adapted, but…

About now is where you might expect the old guy to extol his lack of formal training and to decry the trend to require it of the young. Don’t hold your breath.

In fact, I’d love to be able to establish relationships with my local universities that would allow us to share our experience with their students and hire graduates that are already familiar with our industry. Instead, the best we can hope for is Computer Science graduates with strong backgrounds in theory and mathematics or MIS graduates with knowledge of computer applications in a general business environment.