Healthcare Careers: From Nursing to Health Information Technology
Did you ever play with a toy doctor kit when you were a kid? My parents bought me one when I was five, and I became obsessed with it—particularly with the plastic stethoscope. I can assure you, my baby dolls’ hearts were checked regularly.
These toy medical kits weren’t just a phase for me. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a nurse. In fact, helping patients through nursing has been my life’s passion. And yet today I find myself away from the bedside and working in health IT. In many ways, I miss that one-on-one contact with the patient. But at the same time, I’m happy that what I do today is helping thousands of nurses across the country—in diverse units and nursing specialties—deliver better care to their patients.
The Atypical Teen: Developing a Passion for Nursing
By the time I was a teenager, I had put the plastic medical kit away, but my passion for nursing hadn’t ebbed. I wanted to explore whether nursing was really what I wanted to do with my life. So I joined a club that exposed me to different aspects of the medical field. Thanks to this club, I was a certified EMT at the age of 16.
Obviously, I was too young to work, but I did have the opportunity to volunteer at a local hospital. So while most teenage girls my age were teasing their hair and listening to Joan Jett, I was spending my free time riding along in an ambulance with the paramedics. It was such an exciting time for me. I’ll never forget the time we got a call to go to a quarry where a man had been crushed, and the paramedics sent me over to take his vitals. I was scared. But, at the same time, nothing could have been more fulfilling than knowing that I was actually caring for someone who needed my help and expertise.
Fueled by such experiences, I went straight from high school into nursing school (I graduated on a Friday and started school the next Monday). By age 19, I had my associate’s degree—and my first nursing job at a teaching hospital in Georgia.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Gaining Nursing Expertise
The teaching hospital was the perfect place to become a stellar nurse. It was the kind of job that would either make or break you. Me, it made. I loved the pace and the opportunity to hone my skills. In fact, I loved nursing so much that over the next 10 years I always worked at least two jobs (and at one point worked two jobs and went to school full time to earn my bachelor’s degree). Some of the more senior nurses thought I was crazy, but I thrived on it.
One thing I discovered about myself as a nurse is that I get bored easily. I love a challenge and a bit of chaos. Because of that, I ultimately ended up working in the emergency department. Within a few years, I felt like I had mastered that work. I was the most senior nurse and the go-to person for training new nurses or dealing with trauma victims. I was ready for a new challenge—and a new challenge happened to fall into my lap.
It happened when I went to a trade show to recruit some nurses for our hospital. Two health IT vendors with booths across the aisle from mine came up to me and asked if I had ever considered a career in sales. I honestly hadn’t. I had no idea whether I could sell anything. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was selling good health practices every day in the ER: convincing patients to take their medications and follow care protocols.
Maybe, just maybe, this was the new challenge I had been looking for. Let’s be honest: I was scared to make a change. So much of my passion had gone into nursing for so long. I decided to take a job selling heart monitors—but I kept working my nursing job at the same time for a year before I was comfortable letting it go.
Making a Difference in Clinical Care through Health Information Technology
Ever since that time I have been dedicated to health IT. Some of the companies I have worked for have been quite impressive. But I can truly say that no company’s clinical expertise, ethics, or ability to improve patient care have impressed me more than Health Catalyst’s. I can say this, because I haven’t been part of the Health Catalyst team for very long. I joined in July 2013 as Vice President of Sales.
As I researched the opportunity of working for Health Catalyst, I was impressed by the fact that the company was founded and run by healthcare veterans—people who have actually worked in the halls of hospitals. They understand the business of healthcare and the challenges that clinicians, hospital IT workers, and administrators are experiencing. Most important to me, they understand and know how to address the challenges that nurses experience.
One of the keys of what we do to help clinicians improve quality is to help them decrease the variation in how they care for patients. Our methodology involves using analytics technology to pinpoint where the greatest variation occurs. But then we move beyond technology. We involve nurses, physicians, quality improvement specialists, IT, supply chain personnel, and others in cross-functional teams to determine the best way to standardize best practices and decrease variation in patient care. With this process, nurses’ voices are heard, and everyone has the opportunity to comment on and buy-in to the new care process. Our many success stories show that this approach really works.
I am a person who is driven to do something that makes a difference. That’s why my passion for nursing was so strong. At Health Catalyst, I feel like I’ve come full circle. We are making a difference in healthcare—for nurses, for physicians, and for their patients. I look forward to transforming healthcare with Health Catalyst for a long time to come.
Read what Health Catalyst VP, Mike Doyle, has to say about the perfect career background for healthcare IT. Or read how Dale Sanders, SVP, made the switch from nuclear warfare to healthcare IT. They’re just two of the many fascinating people I work with.
Your turn: If you’re working in healthcare IT, what set you on that path? Or if you’re not, is there anything that appeals to you?