University-Based Training: A Look at Columbia and Cornell

Jessica S. Ancker | June 20, 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 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, part of an occasional series on individual UBT programs and their students, focuses on the Columbia Exit Disclaimer and Cornell Exit Disclaimer Health IT Certificate Programs.

About Our Programs

The Columbia Exit Disclaimer and Cornell Exit Disclaimer Health IT Certificate Programs are six-month training programs that prepare students to enter professional positions in health information management and exchange, health information privacy and security, and programming and software engineering. These highly pragmatic training programs combine self-paced distance learning with monthly in-person sessions. A team-based learning approach gives students opportunities to solve problems and develop projects in a cross-disciplinary and collaborative setting, and a project mentoring network allows students to receive feedback from professionals in the health IT workforce.

The curriculum and training approach have been jointly developed by faculty from the two universities, which share the distance learning resources. However, each university maintains its own admissions process and supervises its own cohort of students. This enables us to serve both urban and rural needs with student cohorts in New York City, and Ithaca, New York.

We are very excited about our joint commencement day for the inaugural class, which will be held June 24, 2011 in New York City because we will have commencement addresses from two superstars in the world of health information technology. Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, will give a commencement speech by web conference. In addition, Dr. Edward Shortliffe, the President and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association, will share his insights about health IT and informatics career opportunities.

Because the joint commencement ceremony will feature 77 graduating students, we have attracted a lot of interest from potential employers and have arranged a job fair. Representatives from 14 different employers around New York State have confirmed their attendance, and employers who could not participate in person have supplied additional job listings.

Our Students

In the current session, we are training 26 students at Cornell and 51 at Columbia. The majority of students (53 across both campuses) are in the Health Information Management and Exchange track; 19 are in the Health Information Privacy and Security track; and five are in the Programmer and Software Engineer track.

Our students represent a wide variety of different backgrounds, including clinical medicine and nursing, public health, information technology, and computer science. They have an average of 17 years of work experience, including an average of seven years of management experience. Forty-five of our students have graduate degrees, including masters’ degrees, PhDs, and JDs.

Jayakesh Nair is a good example of a highly cross-disciplinary student making a career transition. After working in both India and the United States in health care settings including pharmacy management, medical records management, and hospital administration, he began studying nursing. After qualifying for his license as a practical nurse, he continued pursuing training as a Registered Nurse. One of his goals in studying nursing was to pursue a career in health IT, which he sees as crucial to improving the health care delivery system.

Nair commented that this program, which allowed him to study nursing with a focus on health IT, is a “dream come true.” He is grateful to the faculty and administrative staff for giving him the opportunity to take part in “one of the best programs” he has ever attended. He will be completing the certificate with a focus on health information management and exchange.

By contrast, Joseph Wu is completing the health IT certificate with the goal of improving his skills and marketability as he enters the workforce. A master’s student in health policy at Cornell University who has also interned in the IT department of the Weill Cornell Medical College, he hopes to work in financial and hospital settings upon completion of his degree and certificate before ultimately becoming involved in a technology startup. His focus in the certificate program is health information management and exchange.

Joseph Platel became interested in health IT as a master’s student in computer science, when he became involved in the creative class project to build a medical kiosk system for consumers. His research led him to believe that a paperless health system would improve the quality of care and reduce costs, but it also gave him insight into the potential security risks. He will complete his certificate in the health information privacy and security track, with the goal of working as either a security specialist or a software engineer.

As a caseworker for a mental health services agency, Karen Gonta gained first-hand experience of how quality of care for an individual patient could be impacted by poor communication among health care providers or lost medical information. When her agency made the decision to implement a new electronic health record (EHR) system, she realized that this training program could provide her with the skills she needs to play a key role in a system implementation that could improve her clients’ care.

“I am completing this program feeling very confident that interoperable EHRs are key to improving the quality of care,” said Gonta. “I am very fortunate to have been part of this program, and to be a part of this future. I fully intend to go into this field and make my teachers proud!”

Gonta will complete the certificate in health information management and exchange.

For More Information

Interested in learning more about the Columbia and Cornell Health IT Certificate Programs? Please visit:

Be sure to check out the next blog post in the series about the Program of Assistance for University-Based Training. We also encourage you to post comments below.