Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

June 7, 2010

HITECH Act Creates HIT Job Opportunities
By Mary Anne Gates
For The Record
Vol. 22 No. 11 P. 6

While other economic sectors struggle to get back on their feet, the HIT profession presents an enormous opportunity for qualified job seekers. Sparked by a flood of federal funding through the HITECH Act, the HIT industry must add to its cadre of qualified professionals to meet the demand generated by what’s expected to be a dramatic increase in electronic record projects.

However, healthcare organizations won’t be plucking candidates from an overcrowded field. “One of the main challenges in finding great people is the scarcity in some of the skill sets,” says David Ingram, president and CEO of Capital TechSearch, Inc. And Judy Kirby, CPC, president of Kirby Partners, an HIT recruiting and consulting firm, concurs. “There will be shortages of certain skill sets. Informatics, implementation project managers, integration specialists, and those with specific application expertise … will become increasingly valuable on the market,” she says.

While some industry experts believe the federal money available to train would-be HIT workers will benefit both the industry and the job seekers, others say tight federal deadlines are a concern. Kirby says the timeline leaves little chance to put training programs in place. “Hiring authorities will tell you that ads for healthcare IT openings are attracting large numbers of respondents, of which most have no background or experience for their positions,” she notes. “There still is a lot of hesitancy for hospitals to bring on younger, less-qualified individuals and provide training for them. With the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] deadlines, they don’t have the time luxury to train.” 

Experience Counts
Technology-challenged individuals trying to enter HIT without a healthcare background or IT experience can expect to face many obstacles while trying to find a position.

 “We have had some inquiries as to how people could get into healthcare IT. However, those with no IT experience, no healthcare experience, and limited technical skills will find the road very rough. Organizations are looking for experience and talent, not ‘want-to-bes,’” says Kirby. “Others who are in finance or other industries hard hit by the economy are trying to get into healthcare positions. If a healthcare system has a choice, it will choose someone with industry experience for the nontechnical positions over someone who wants to enter the industry.”

 “We have seen many people who had worked in financial services and retail try and move to the healthcare market,” Ingram says. “We see people trying to transition to the field every day.”

At nearly all levels, a strong healthcare background appears to be the key to arranging a successful marriage between medical facilities and prospective candidates.

“We have conducted chief information officer [CIO] searches that generated highly qualified candidates, including those with diverse experiences but a limited healthcare background. But organizations are still mostly choosing individuals who have a strong healthcare background,” Kirby says. “We have seen that at higher-level positions, many individuals who come from outside the healthcare vertical market … become frustrated with the consensus building required in healthcare.” Chief technology officers and those filling positions that require enterprise resource planning have a better chance to make the transition, Kirby adds.

Crossover Candidates
Many recruiters agree that healthcare workers crossing over from other clinical areas into an HIT role may have the best chance to succeed and have an easier time making the transition. For example, some doctors are looking at IT with a new awareness while nurses may find they are a good fit for an IT position.

 “We are seeing more clinical people, including MDs interested in IT, moving into technology positions. We see a growing interest from non-IT healthcare professionals who want to enter the IT arena, such as RNs with superuser status. Superusers use the system so much entering various clinical and patient information that they are really good at it and understand the system intuitively. We are also seeing workers who were previously in healthcare IT but who left for opportunities in other industries wanting to return,” says Kirby.

Hiring Practices
The economy, the retirement of baby boomers, and increased HIT demands are making it more difficult to fill critical positions. To help alleviate this problem, healthcare organizations are taking a closer look at virtual workers and becoming more willing to make on-site scheduling adjustments. While some hospitals are filling positions with remote workers, others are considering four-day, 10-hour work weeks to allow “job travelers” to be home for three-day weekends.

For the most part, because of the intensity of the initiatives under way, hospitals want candidates who can “hit the ground running” more so than those who will have a steep learning curve, says Kirby.

Additionally, the best candidates are expecting to receive top dollar. “In many cases, we have seen a disparity between what the hospital wants to pay and what the candidate is looking for, and they [the hospital] have had to increase their pay to attract the best people,” says Ingram.

“From our perspective, salaries have remained pretty flat for the past two years, but this will probably change later this year for certain candidates with skills in high demand,” says Kirby, adding that healthcare organizations hiring personnel on the cheap will only face greater problems down the road.

“One CIO we spoke with was very proud that he filled his analyst positions with former healthcare IT managers and directors. He felt he was getting great experience at bargain-basement salaries,” she says. “What he failed to realize, however, is that as the market continues to open, these people will be the first ones to leave because they are working below their abilities.”

The Economy
Even when the skill sets of qualified candidates match the job requirements, the poor economy can become a stumbling block for providers looking to hire HIT professionals.

“We speak with experienced candidates every day for positions we represent who cannot relocate because they are ‘upside down’ in their homes or have a spouse with a secure job,” Kirby says. “We are seeing more and more job travelers who are home on weekends but spend their work weeks living in an apartment in another city because they cannot relocate their families.”

Meanwhile, others are benefiting from the soft economy. “[It’s] a plus for consulting firms as consultants can generally live where they want to and travel from there to the client site,” Kirby says. “Another interesting aspect is the number of healthcare IT workers who are considering retirement. In many cases, they have delayed their retirements due to their retirement funds being battered by the stock market decrease. As these funds are replaced, more and more will set dates to retire. [As a result,] there will be a talent shortage.”

— Mary Anne Gates is a freelance writer based in Fort Wayne, Ind.