Helping Students Launch Health Information Technology Careers: A Look at the Oregon Health & Science University-Based Training Program

William Hersh | December 15, 2011

I was amazed at the enthusiasm and interest the instructors and staff all showed. Everyone genuinely wants to make a difference in the lives of patients by providing clinicians with better tools.Lorraine Bessmer, Applications Systems Analyst, Legacy Health Systems, Portland, Oregon

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) health information technology (health IT) training program is among the nation’s oldest. One of nine institutions funded through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) Program of Assistance for University-Based Training (UBT), OHSU draws health IT students from Oregon and many other states. This blog post discusses the OHSU program and how it is preparing a diverse group of students for health information technology careers.

About Our Program

UBT-funded students in the OHSU biomedical informatics graduate program are part of a growing movement to apply information technology in ways that ultimately improve individual health, health care, and public health.

The OHSU UBT program prepares students for professional and leadership roles in:

  • Implementation of electronic health records (EHRs),
  • Health information exchange, and
  • Health care quality measurement and improvement.

The OHSU program, which has been in existence for more than 15 years, includes a Graduate Certificate and Master of Biomedical Informatics (MBI). UBT funding adds the requirement of additional specific courses, as well as completion of a practicum (Certificate) or internship (MBI). Both programs can be taken on-campus or via distance learning. OHSU also offers Master of Science and PhD degrees beyond the UBT program to on-campus students.

The OHSU program covers all six workforce roles specified by the UBT initiative. The most popular roles are:

  • Clinician/public health leader
  • Health IT subspecialist
  • Health information management and exchange (students who complete this curriculum are eligible to sit for the Registered Health Information Administrator [RHIA] certification exam)

In Person and Online Classes

Certificate students complete the program online; MBI participants are full-time on-campus students. Both programs are national in scope.

OSHU also offers distance learning, allowing students from other states to participate in the program. William Jennings, MD., Chief Medical Information Officer at Palmetto Health Quality Collaborative in South Carolina stated:

“With distance learning, I could continue practicing while formalizing my education in medical informatics. I vaulted in months to professional roles that otherwise would have required years of service.”


Students in the program are required to complete a practicum or internship in order to gain first-hand experience in the field. Projects and settings have varied, and have included health care institutions, health information organizations, companies, and federal agencies.

Competing for a Spot in the Program

More and more people are learning about the potential of health IT and competition for admission in the program has been intense, especially in the Certificate program. We have received 327 applications, from many well-qualified individuals, for the 103 available positions that have so far been funded in the program.

Geographic, Educational, and Occupational Diversity

Students in the OSHU program hail from all over the country. About half of the students are from Oregon and the others represent 24 states and the District of Columbia.

The students—equipped with bachelors and masters degrees and MDs—come from diverse occupational backgrounds, most commonly in the fields of medicine, nursing, and business administration/management.

Many other health care professions are represented as well, such as:

  • Public health,
  • Pharmacy,
  • Nurse midwifery,
  • Occupational therapy, and
  • Physician assistants.

Other highly represented occupations include computer science/information technology, health care administration/management, and library/and information science.

Health Information Technology Careers

Several graduates have obtained jobs in the health IT sector, some even before they graduated! Others with jobs used the UBT program to move into health IT or build upon their careers.

Students in the UBT program are assisted in their job search and placement by a career counselor for the OHSU UBT program. The career counselor also tracks available job openings and provides webinars as well as personal sessions on resume-writing, interviewing, and other aspects of obtaining employment.

Student Success Stories

OHSU’s UBT graduates are proud to share their success stories. Here are a few examples:

Tom Durkin, an early Certificate graduate, was a school teacher. His wife’s medical practice gave him a window into the challenges of health IT implementation. After completing his practicum with the Oregon HIT Extension Center (O-HITEC), he was hired to recruit members for the center. He is also developing practice design/support skills, working with EHR products offered by the center’s parent organization.

The UBT program helped me redirect my teaching and sales skills into the HIT field. The knowledge I gained led directly to my current position and provided a foundation for electronic communications that I use with providers throughout Oregon.—Tom Durkin

Gregg Hoshovsky, who came to the UBT program with an IT background, has been hired as an analyst at St. Charles Health Care in Bend, Oregon. He joined the program because his previous job in e-commerce was “outsourced” to another country.

My basic desire was to move away from IT development and into the health care industry. The courses in this program helped me understand the complexities of the health care provider’s work environment. This has been invaluable for someone coming from outside the industry. I’m in a position to provide suggestions and solutions for quality improvement.— Gregg Hoshovsky

Larry Bannister, a former software engineer who was the UBT program’s first MBI graduate, completed his studies in June 2011 and immediately obtained a position as Test Manager for the Certification Commission on HIT (CCHIT).

The software engineering field has been decimated and I have been either unemployed or under-employed for a period of four or five years. I searched for something that would fit my background, as well, i.e., I wanted to utilize my software development and software test experience. I was a pre-med student as an undergraduate and continue to have an interest in the biological sciences. The OHSU program gave me the credibility to say that I have the background and training to do health IT. I had either developed or tested some HIT products in the past but the in-depth study of clinical topics, HIT legislation and HIT in general made me a more believable candidate to potential employers. Also, and most importantly, the networking via OHSU graduates and staff made the important connections that I needed to land my present job.

Jodi Kodish-Wachs, MD, Physician Consultant for Siemens Corp. in Pennsylvania, made a career transition that is giving her new opportunities to develop EHR solutions.

After implementing and utilizing an EHR as Chair of the Department Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at a VA hospital, I moved to a university outpatient facility. Their 7-year unfulfilled promise of an EHR was frustrating. So, I sought new opportunities to improve how we obtain clinical information at the point of patient contact. OHSU’s UBT program has exceeded my expectations. My experiences with the program have been invaluable to my new career in clinical informatics. At Siemens, I use my new information daily, applying it to the development of EHR solutions.— Jodi Kodish-Wachs, MD

Looking to the Future

Overall, the OHSU UBT program has been a rewarding experience for students, faculty, and staff alike. There have certainly been some challenges. For example, students must complete the Certificate program in a year, which can be hard to accomplish if you also have a job and family commitments. Of course, the struggling economy is a challenge, too. We have many success stories, but some of our graduates have yet to find health information technology careers where they live.

Nonetheless, the future looks promising. The health care industry will continue to adopt IT. And with the development of the new clinical informatics subspecialty for physicians, and other certifications in health IT likely to follow, those who choose a health IT role will receive professional recognition for their work.

With the growing need for safety and accountability, information technology will be a critical component of health care delivery, and no one will be better prepared to lead the related efforts than those trained in health IT.

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