University-Based Training: A Look at Texas’ PURE-HIT Program

Dr. Susan Fenton | August 30, 2011

The Program of Assistance for University-Based Training (UBT), which is part of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) Workforce Development Program, is designed to rapidly and sustainably increase the availability of individuals qualified to serve in specific health information technology (health IT) professional roles requiring university-level training.

The nine colleges and universities that received a grant under this program are charged with promptly establishing new and/or expanded training programs, many of which can be completed in a year or less.

This blog post focuses on the Texas PURE-HIT consortium, the largest of the UBT grants, tasked with training 320 new health IT workers by summer 2013.

About the PURE-HIT Consortium

The PURE-HIT consortium Exit Disclaimer is led by Texas State University-San Marcos (Texas State) in collaboration with The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), College of Natural Sciences and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI).

These three institutions are training students in five of the six workforce roles designated by ONC.

By summer 2013, Texas State and UT Austin will train 291 students in health IT, and UTHealth SBMI will prepare 29 new students.

Students working together on research projects at UT Austin.

Students working together on research projects in the UT Austin Health IT Summer Certificate program (L to R: Danielle Rodriguez, Laura Bauman, Mawa Keita, and Jessica Cheng)

About Our Students

The students in the program include recent UT Austin College of Natural Science graduates, information technology professionals who are seeking to enter the health IT workforce, as well as clinicians who want or need to lead their institutions in electronic health record (EHR) implementation.

Texas State

Texas State’s Exit Disclaimer graduate certificate program builds from a core of three health information management (HIM) courses. Students choose electives such as data mining and project management from the Computer Information Systems curriculum or clinical trials data analysis from the Health Research curriculum. The privacy and security certificate courses are drawn from the existing health information management courses.

Coursework is delivered online or via interactive video, giving students from across the state the ability to participate in the program. As of August 2011, 15 students completed their graduate certification in HIM, and four have received health information privacy and security certificates.

And the good news is, more than 50 percent of graduates are already employed in new health IT-related positions! The remaining students are working with myself and the Texas State Career Services Center, which has extensive contacts throughout the state of Texas and nationally.


The UTHealth’s SBMI Exit Disclaimer was developed as a Master of Science in Applied Health Informatics, which focuses on EHRs. It is a distance education program that can be competed in one-year for full- time students and two years for part-time students.

Since this is a distance education program, UTHealth’s SBMI developed curriculum that is driven by team-based projects using social media, such as SecondLife, to help students feel engaged with other students and faculty.

This innovative approach to project learning has the benefits of traditional classroom education while still meeting the needs of students, allowing them to remain in their own geographic locations. Additionally, the activities are designed to maximize flexibility to meet the demands of adult graduate students.

SecondLife Project Much of the work that the students accomplish during the semester is summarized at a poster session in SecondLife that occurs at the end of the semester. The combination of project-based work and SecondLife creates an ideal interaction, which simulates real-life professional presentations. Check out these two YouTube videos to review examples of the students’ work:

These SecondLife examples demonstrate some of the ways the UTHealth SBMI faculty have created an interactive project-based learning environment to engage distance education students.

UT Austin

Faculty members at UT Austin demonstrating telemedicine

Faculty members, Mr. Bob Ligon and Dr. Kimberly Smith, demonstrate how telemedicine is used to make medical diagnoses in the UT Austin Health IT Summer Certificate program. (L to R: Bob Ligon, Kimberly Smith (on screen), Amina Uben, Evan Varadi, and Trinh Dang)

Students who participate in the UT Austin Exit Disclaimer nine-week intensive health IT certificate program complete six weeks of didactic and simulation-based training followed by a two-and-a-half week practicum experience offered at multiple sites in Austin and around the state.

A hallmark of the program is the innovative, integrated spiral curriculum, which was developed in partnership with members of the health IT industry and health care organizations.

The program features:

  • Expert guest lectures
  • Group activities
  • Case studies
  • A research project that culminates in poster presentations judged by members of the HIT industry

Students are hosted for their practicum by health IT vendors, consultants, health care professionals, and a regional extension center.

Graduates of the program also receive ongoing support from a career expert to help them successfully find employment. More than 90 percent Exit Disclaimer of eligible graduates from the summer certificate program have been hired!

New Learning Center The new learning center Exit Disclaimer at UT Austin features a lecture hall, a computer classroom, and a mock ambulatory care clinic – the ‘Longhorn Clinic’. The clinic features five exam rooms, a mock home health environment, and a telemedicine system. Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with six electronic health systems and a health exchange. They also carry out exercises designed to teach workflow process redesign.

Success Stories

Ms. Merila Walker from the UT Austin health IT certificate program and Ms. Catherine Colman from the Texas State certificate program are two examples of students who are now working in health IT-related jobs. Both have been hired as health IT policy analysts by the Texas Office of e-Health Coordination.

Ms. Walker described the UT-Austin program and her new position as follows:

“In my work as a policy analyst for the Office of e-Health Coordination in Texas Health and Human Services, I’m helping to develop health IT infrastructure in Texas. Much of my time is spent administering the Local Health Information Exchange (HIE) Grant Program. We are supporting the development of 16 non-profit HIEs, each serving a certain geographic area in Texas. There are so many hard-working individuals dedicating their careers to building health IT infrastructure, and I’m thrilled to be part of the health IT revolution.

I have no doubt that being a graduate of UT’s health IT certificate program got me the interview. My experience in the program gave me the confidence to speak during the interview about HIT in an informed manner. Health IT is constantly evolving, so there is never an end to learning. In Texas, we are lucky to have such a great community of individuals working on HIT and developing our HIT workforce. I am very grateful to all of the wonderful individuals involved in UT’s HIT Certificate Program. Their Herculean efforts have had such a positive impact on my life.”

Ms. Colman had the following to say regarding the Texas State certificate program:

“My concentration in the certificate program was data analysis, taking courses in data mining and warehousing, statistical analysis, and database management. In my current position as a policy analyst with the Texas Office of e-Health Coordination, I am synthesizing survey data to create reports about EHR adoption rates and attitudes toward health information exchange among Texas practitioners and hospitals. My knowledge of SPSS and other data analysis applications, as well as a firm understanding of the health IT landscape, provided by the PURE- HIT UBT training program, helped me to secure this exciting policy position.”

The experience and success of these two graduates – and the many other graduates that will follow –demonstrate the value of a diverse approach to effectively prepare graduates to enter the HIT workforce.

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