Evolving Education: Pay It Forward
By Darice Grzybowski, MA, RHIA, FAHIMA
For The Record
Vol. 31 No. 2 P. 30
Mentoring played such an important role in my career that when considering a name for my company back in 2005, I used “Mentors” in the trademark.
For me, mentoring started with my father (a pharmacist/pharmaceutical sales manager) and my aunt (a family practice physician) exposing me to their professions early on by letting me tag along to the hospital on days they worked, long before there was a “Take Your Child to Work Day.”
I’m confident that witnessing their involvement in the health care profession influenced my decision years later to obtain a degree in medical record administration. They provided the guiding principles for how I wanted to conduct business, including the act of paying it forward through mentoring.
While still finishing college, I had two excellent mentors, Rita Finnegan and Jody Ladwig, who were HIM professionals working at a university and hospital, respectively. They took me under their wing, offered me my first job (night shift!), and helped teach me the successful principles of managing a records department and how to work with clinicians.
Later in my career, I credit mentors such as Leslie Fox, Mary Mike Pavoni, and Jennifer Cofer, who continued to expose me to opportunities to broaden my skills as a consultant, speaker, educator, volunteer, and leader in the profession.
When I worked on the vendor side with 3M Corporation, I was asked to participate in a corporate mentoring program for executives in an unfamiliar field (construction and home improvement). The assignment taught me how to cross-apply principles of marketing, sales, and product development in different vertical channels.
Throughout these various aspects of mentoring, I always paid attention to how I could give back for the valuable insight and lessons learned from my mentors by coaching students and teaching young professionals to find their own way along the career path and to encourage them to also mentor others.
Speaking, writing professional articles, networking, and volunteering are wonderful ways to expose yourself to opportunities to find others to help mentor. Encouraging others to ask for help or offering to assist someone where you see a need will allow you to identify creative ways to give back while creating forward momentum for the mentee.
We often think our stories aren’t good enough to share, but the act of sharing works both ways; many times the mentor learns from the mentee. A mind open to continuous learning and an eagerness to learn from professionals who have skills and thoughts—whether similar or dissimilar to our own—can provide gateways to an accomplished career.
Creative Ways to Mentor
For the busy HIM professional, it sometimes seems as if there are never enough hours in the day to complete that lengthy to-do list. You may legitimately wonder how mentoring would fit into such a busy schedule. Fortunately, there are ways to make it work. The following are ideas on how this can be accomplished:
• Write an article for an industry news source offering helpful how-to tips and advice.
• Offer to speak or teach a class at a local college or regional HIM meeting.
• Volunteer to guide a student intern. Whether it be for a day or a month, you will help that individual grow simply by letting them observe and shadow different positions within your department or office.
• Volunteer to present a webinar for a vendor or a professional association such as AHIMA or AAPC. It’s great practice for public speaking. Should it prove to be a success, it may become a regular gig and a source of additional income.
• Investigate becoming part of a formal mentoring program. Many companies offer mentoring programs in which you can volunteer to mentor someone or become a mentee yourself.
• Become a committee member for a task force on an unfamiliar topic. You will help educate others and learn something in the process.
• Mentoring can be fun. Host a Take Your Kid to Work Day in your department. Shadowing a parent can inspire the future leaders of tomorrow. Have the youngsters play games that emulate the medical record process. For example, they can create their “own” medical record with a file folder. They can take an “X-ray” of their hand on the copy machine that can be placed into their patient file. Have them type a report—perhaps even write a progress note.
Those interested in becoming a mentor should research the topic to learn more about what it takes to become successful. In that regard, resources such as AHIMA’s Engage Community, which features a mentor matching program designed to help HIM professionals participate in such a program, are invaluable.
Keep in mind that mentoring doesn’t occur solely at work—you can mentor in your family and social life as well.
Functional Mentoring Opportunities
HIM mentoring can cover a variety of functional areas. Each functional area within the HIM department requires specialized skills. For professionals to work at their utmost performance capacity—both in terms of productivity and quality measures—it takes someone more experienced to take the time to train and encourage them along the way.
The following represent a sampling of different functional areas where mentors can make a difference. Included are potential discussion topics.
Coding: Coding is probably the most obvious function within an HIM department where mentors can make a difference. Coders are usually trained by sitting with a more experienced coder. For a specified time period (usually months), they may have their work double-checked by the assigned trainer.
Instead of just quoting accuracy statistics, mentors might want to audit fewer records and take more time reviewing certain documentation principles. For example, if a coder needs to locate the discharge disposition, showing him or her the various locations in the EHR where it can be found—and how to change it and whom to notify—can be a valuable lesson learned. Encourage new coders to find an “official spot” in the record where this documentation can be found and allow them to work with various departments to reach a consensus on the “one spot” in the record where this will be officially documented vs multiple areas which have content that may conflict.
Release of Information: Individuals who have worked for a facility for a long time have knowledge of all the areas where records may be found. Many facilities have off-site storage and alternate media, including film, cassettes, and audio tapes, hiding in other departments.
Work jointly with mentees to create a master inventory of the various record locations. The development of such a tool can help release of information staff or outsourcing vendors improve processes, an instance in which mentoring benefits not only the mentee but also the entire department.
Leadership: New supervisors are often in a situation where they need a lot of mentoring. It’s tough to manage people for the first time, especially if you are a newer graduate leading an experienced staff.
An experienced manager can assist by allowing the new supervisor to work on simpler tasks such as scheduling and productivity review. Meanwhile, the senior manager can handle any staff personnel reviews or coaching until the newcomer becomes more comfortable.
In cases where a position crosses over into other departments (for example, Tumor Registry may work closely with Oncology, or an HIM manager may work side by side with an IT analyst), it is important to allow time for cross mentoring. Shadowing in another department or attending quality control meetings in those areas may fill a knowledge gap that an employee needs to be more successful.
A Worthwhile Pursuit
Mentoring takes many forms—none of which are too intimidating or time consuming. Whether done as part of a formal corporate program or pursued independently, mentoring can be rewarding and provide new networking opportunities that go beyond being part of a short-term program. Learning from and working with others is a skill that will be valued throughout your career.
Mentoring is an easy way to give back to the profession, help others learn, and gain knowledge yourself. It takes little effort to pay it forward and treat others like you wish you were treated when learning a new task or a new career.
— Darice Grzybowski, MA, RHIA, FAHIMA, is president of H.I.Mentors, LLC. She can be contacted at email@example.com.