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AHIMA Conference Preview

How to Navigate ‘Education Row’ at AHIMA
By Stephanie Donovan, MBA, RHIA

Attending the AHIMA annual national conference is an experience all its own, especially for first timers. The educational sessions and speakers are cutting-edge; long conference days spill into evenings of networking and social events; and when the conference ends, many find themselves inspired and reenergized to work in the exciting field of HIM.

One of the best ways to take a mental break during the conference and learn about new products and services is exploring the vendor hall, an HIM candy shop of sorts. It’s there in the vendor hall that you’ll likely find HIM academic programs represented. So if you are interested in starting or advancing your HIM education, where should you start?

Before you attend the conference, familiarize yourself with the AHIMA certifications and associated accreditation and approval processes. Doing this first will better equip you to engage in dialogue with program representatives because it likely will include acronyms or academic program buzzwords. Here are a few pointers that may help you navigate the academic institution offerings on site in the vendor hall:

Ask about program accreditation. Accreditation is a voluntary process and, depending on the type of credentials sought, impacts a graduate’s eligibility to take a credentialing exam. Inquire about a program’s accreditation status and the entity from whom accreditation is awarded or being sought.

Who are my teachers? Ask about program faculty and their areas of specialization and expertise. Faculty members not only serve as mentors to students but oftentimes as liaisons between students and the faculty’s professional networks. As a student, in what ways could you expect to benefit from the faculty’s expertise and professional network? Furthermore, are program faculty members involved in any professional associations and in what capacity?

Engage in conversation about course delivery options. Can students complete their HIM degree online, on campus, or in a hybrid fashion, completing some courses online and some on campus? Furthermore, what can you expect in terms of course scheduling? If you are an online learner, you’ll want to be sure that the courses you need for degree completion are offered regularly or in a way that supports continued progress toward your academic goals. The same is true for on campus courses. Are they offered regularly?

Answers to these questions will help you chart your academic plan, better gauge how long it will take for degree completion, and may inform other decisions around financial aid or employer-based tuition assistance.

Ask about specialized software utilized in the program. Exposure to specialized software during degree completion is important for several reasons. First, it strengthens experiential or hands-on learning. Imagine learning about the patient registration process and then practicing what you learned by completing the registration process in a simulated environment.

Next, it looks fantastic on your résumé and may help position you competitively in your initial job search or when being considered for advancement.

Last, it arms graduates who may not otherwise have experience in health care with the capacity to speak to specialized software during an interview. You may not have held a job using a particular type of software, but if you are exposed to the same or similar type of software during degree completion, you may be more favorable over applicants who lack that experience.

Ask about required or optional internships. An internship is an ideal way to “connect the dots” and bring together the theory presented in the classroom. It also serves as a great opportunity for students to strengthen communication and interpersonal skills. If an internship is required, where are most students placed? Inquire about what the placement process involves and whether it is the student’s responsibility to find a site. If a formal internship is not required, how are volunteer and shadowing experiences arranged or supported?

Ask about opportunities for students to develop, strengthen, and exercise leadership while enrolled in the program. This may take the shape of a student association, for example. If a student association does not exist, what other leadership opportunities exist for students?

So enjoy the people you meet while at AHIMA and have fun!

— Stephanie Donovan, MBA, RHIA, is an assistant professor and faculty chair of health programs at Peirce College in Philadelphia.