Changing Careers: How to Transition from Clinician to Health IT Professional

While building out my team of Epic trainers at a past implementation, one of my best hires was a Nursing Manager from inside the organization. She had no formal background in software training, but her clinical knowledge and understanding of nursing workflows, combined with her natural communication and teaching skills, made her an outstanding trainer.

Within a year and half, she was promoted to manage a team of trainers, and she led the development of our nurse training materials for the project.

Several consultants in our company have carved out a similar career path—moving from patient care to IT consulting, and I meet many clinicians in my travels who want to make a transition into IT. I’d say most of these individuals don’t have formal technical training, but they are ‘tech-savvy’ and are typically the most curious and enthusiastic adopters of new applications in the hospital.

The good news is that there are several roles within healthcare IT—especially during a large-scale EHR transition or implementation—where your clinical background and knowledge will be a valuable asset. Typical positions include clinical application analyst, informaticist or application trainer.

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You may not know coding, but the soft skills you use every day are applicable to healthcare IT. Skills like communication, empathy, relationship building, creative problem solving and time management.

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As the Application Analyst, you would gain an in-depth knowledge of clinical software and participate in all stages of a new EHR implementation including design/analysis, configuration and testing of the new build, and cut over and go-live. In smaller initiatives, like upgrades, you would participate in a subset of the activities above.

Informatics come from a variety of backgrounds including Nursing, Pharmacy, Lab and Therapy disciplines. In this role, you learn the new clinical software and serve as a liaison between IT and hospital clinicians. You are the “voice of the clinician and the patient.” You will participate in the development and implementation of the new clinical application, and work with operations on new workflow design and adoption.

As an Application Trainer you would develop education materials, training schedules, and deliver training to end users on the new clinical system functionality and workflows. You support and motivate end users, and your goals are to ensure understanding and adoption of the solution.

So what steps can you take to prepare for a transition into healthcare IT while working in your current position? Here’s my advice:

  • Volunteer to be your department's subject matter expert (SME), end-user build validation tester, or become a Super user for any new clinical applications or devices.
  • Network with other IT Professionals. Join your local HIMSS chapter, participate in IT or informatics groups through your professional association, and look online for conferences and local meetups where you can learn more about IT careers from individuals who are already in the business.
  • Pursue additional IT education and certification. There are plenty of options here, from 4 year degree programs in informatics to online software certification programs. (AMIA and AMDIS are two places to learn more about informatics options.)
  • Read about the industry. HealthcareITNews and HISTalk are among the more widely read blogs, but there are many to choose from. Scanning online HIT job listings is also instructive. That's a great way to see the types of jobs available to clinicians with IT experience.
  • If your hospital is hiring analysts or trainers for a new EHR program—apply! This is the most direct path to a new IT career—and your organization will pay for your training. Even if you aren’t chosen, you’re showing an interest in IT roles and meeting IT hiring managers, which can pay off in the future.

Now, having said that it is possible to move to a technical career from a clinical role, I’m not saying it’s easy. Today’s trainer market is frankly, saturated. And net-new EHR installs have slowed, which means fewer opportunities for clinicians to get analyst training as part of an implementation.

But don’t get discouraged. Beyond the EHR, there are new frontiers like Artificial Intelligence and Big Data that are spinning off new career choices for technically-inclined clinicians. Outside of the hospital, health tech startups and even the large EHR companies are always hiring clinical experts for roles within their companies.

One last tip: if you do make the move to IT, keep your clinical licenses and certifications active. These are valuable assets that differentiate you from others in the IT world. I've also met clinicians who have switched to IT, only to return to a clinical role later, so it's always good to leave your options open.

Vicki Davis is Healthcare IT Leaders VP, EHR Activation and Training. She has led large-scale training and delivery teams at Providence Health and Systems and Stanford Health and has overseen classroom-based and online learning programs for tens of thousands of end-users over the past decade.