Health IT Workforce Training Programs: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Chitra Mohla | March 10, 2014

If you want to get out of medicine the fullest enjoyment, be students all your lives.
David Riesman (1867- 1940)


Funding for the ONC Health IT Workforce Training Programs, first awarded in March 2010, ended on September 30, 2013. The goal of this program was to train a workforce that would be ready to usher in the digital information age in health care. Reflecting on the past four years, it has been an amazing journey – a reflection of the achievements of the incredible Universities and Community Colleges that participated in this endeavor.

Looking Back -It was February 2010 – “Snowmageddon” – an unprecedented snowfall here in the Washington D.C. region.  During this blizzard, a group of intrepid reviewers met to evaluate grant applications and select the best applicants to administer ONC’s new Workforce programs.  The selected grantees represented educational institutions from across the country and were charged with standing up health IT workforce training programs within six months.  In May 2010, the first grantee meeting was held in Washington, and programs would launch later that year. By September, the funded curriculum development centers began delivering the first batch of training materials to the Community Colleges in the program and the Community Colleges began hiring staff, marketing the health IT training program and enrolling students. This curriculum rollout was incredibly exciting for all involved.

By October 2010, students in these Community College classrooms were being taught by a talented cadre of faculty, many of whom were adjuncts. The curriculum was intense and 19,773 of them successfully completed the training program, nearly twice the initial goal.  To name a few examples of how these institutions used innovative ways to engage students, Community Colleges used to adapting to a changing landscape implemented the training programs with flexibility, meeting the needs of their adult learners by offering distance learning and continuing education. Training stipends provided out-of-work adult students an opportunity to embark on a new career path. University-based training programs also used many of the same curriculum components and were able to stand up robust, 1-2 year health IT training programs, graduating 1,704 students.  Click here for an infographic highlighting key statistics from the workforce programs.


Evaluation of the Health IT Workforce Program:  The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago was funded to conduct an independent evaluation of the training programs.  They found that in general, students believed that the programs provided a solid foundation in health IT. Students appreciated opportunities for group work interactions in both online and in-person formats. These work groups allowed students to develop skills such as team building, new work habits, and exposed them to classmates of diverse backgrounds. Students, instructors and administrators appreciated the opportunity to use these online learning platforms.

The programs helped many students find jobs, while some already employed reported a salary/wage increase or a promotion. For example, in surveys conducted by NORC, we found that close to one-third (31%) of community college students working in a health IT job with the same employer as prior to the program received salary increases, while one-quarter experienced a position or job title change.  Among university students working in health IT, more than one-third received a salary increase (38%) and a position or job title change (35%) roughly six months after completing the program. Sixteen percent of community college students and one-quarter (24%) of university students working in health IT earned a promotion after program completion.

A complete evaluation report and the executive summary can be found on

Looking Forward – Future of the Health IT Training:  The pace of the transformation of the nation’s health care system is accelerating, requiring a well-trained health care workforce that can maximize the potential offered by health IT.  That acceleration requires an urgent need to train current health care workers and new trainees to support the use of health IT in order to successfully achieve this transformation.

Recognizing the continuing need for a workforce trained in health IT, the funded colleges and universities that have implemented the training programs will continue to offer health IT curricula. In addition, other colleges and universities are incorporating health IT training into their programs. Colleges will continue to evolve the curriculum to incorporate newly launched initiatives, such as accountable care organizations and other new payment models.  ONC will continue to partner with other Federal agencies to include health IT training into their programs.

These are exciting times for the health care industry and educators, and will require creative and innovative ways to provide workforce training.  Ultimately, flexibility of training will allow students to create their own objectives as needs evolve, establishing a culture of learning while providing care.