We talked to Patrick about his experience in the Health Informatics program, his new position, and the future of the health informatics field.
Tell us about yourself and how you decided to pursue a Master of Science in Health Informatics at The University of Scranton.
My name is Patrick Wende and am originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I attended The University of Scranton as an undergraduate, studying exercise science and sports. While I found that field fascinating, it wasn’t the career field I was looking for.
By chance, I landed in a role at a local hospital teaching professionals how to use electronic health record software, and found that the health informatics field was the field for me. After being in health informatics for some time, I decided to pursue a graduate degree and chose to return to The University of Scranton. My choice was largely due to the history I had with the school, and my knowledge of the quality of education I would get—notwithstanding it being a brand new degree program.
How did the program fit into your job?
Throughout the program I worked at Geisinger, a local health system, managing their trauma registry. Though very data- and writing-intensive, this position allowed me to interact with clinical and administrative professionals to understand where health technology fit into their workflow and the changing landscape of health care.
One course, healthcare policy management, impacted my work immediately. While it was taught mostly using the government as an example, the principles were very easily translatable to the private organizational healthcare structure as well. The course explored how the policy process functions when considering the need for political momentum and effective change management. Combined with my experience in interacting with administrators, this knowledge completely changed my perception of the field.
Working with these administrators helped me better understand why processes and policies I’ve experienced in the past have or have not worked. The overall impact of the ways process and policy are enacted, changed and managed was a major eye-opener for me, and I’ll be using that information forever.
How did you balance your data- and writing-intensive job with your coursework?
It was a challenge, no doubt. I was fortunate to have a supervisor at my job that was very understanding of the challenges that I would be undergoing as a student and a full-time professional, and she was flexible with me.
I know that’s something not every student will have. It certainly is a challenge to maintain 40-plus hours of work per week and the student workload, but you just have to develop a new routine. You prioritize your time in such a way that you can complete your work and school work while still having time for yourself.
Scranton’s course structure made it much easier to build this routine. The workload is laid out by week, so you aren’t overburdened with a mass amount of work to do all at once.
What project did you do for your capstone course?
My capstone project took me to a wide variety of facilities in the Geisinger system to compare and analyze how the same process worked at four different hospitals. My job was to document the differences between them, their strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities for process standardization across the hospitals.
I had to learn to work with each stakeholder group impacted by the process; otherwise, I’d have only bits and pieces of the information vital to understanding the process as a whole.
There were so many moving parts, regardless of location, that it required me to confirm information at various levels. That aspect was astonishing in and of itself—realizing just how many layers of personnel you need to explore to effectively document a process.
How does technology fit into health informatics?
The field is growing more technical. Informaticists—a common health informatics title—work as the intermediary between clinical and technical personnel. When I was looking for new professional opportunities, many informaticist positions required a solid technical base and were seeking candidates who weren’t afraid of learning new technologies.
Essentially, if you’re interested in pursuing this field, you need to be willing to embrace the idea of new and developing technology.
In my current role, I will be able to use many of the skills the program teaches that are geared toward informaticists—again, that link between the clinical and technical. But, if you were to draw a spectrum with technical on one end and clinical on the other, you wouldn’t be able to place the informaticist right in the middle. They would be more toward the technical end of the spectrum. At least that’s what I’ve experienced in my role, and I think that goes for the majority of informaticist positions as well.
Do you need a technical background for Scranton’s program?
You don’t need to be very technical to get through the program, but as the field skews more toward the technical side, the curriculum is sure to follow. Scranton’s program introduces technical topics in early courses and gives students a base from which to gain job-specific skills.
I get a lot of built-in education at my current job, especially as I’m learning the specific software that we use. The degree prepares you to enter the workforce, you just have to know that part of being an informaticist is learning how technology fits into your specific position.
Finally, do you have any advice for prospective students?
The health care field is very interesting and has a wide range of opportunities, offers, and room for a diverse workforce. Students should take any opportunities to speak to or shadow people in the field to make sure that it’s the field they want to be in because it’s so unique.
The University of Scranton’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program is at the cutting edge of this emerging field.