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Gill a 'Perfect Fit' for Emerging Health Information Technology Field

Updated January 2012

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HIT student Jim Gill

When Milwaukee Area Technical College was named part of a consortium that received a one-year grant of $7,531,403 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to offer Health Information Technology (HIT) certificate programs in spring 2010, it caught the attention of area health care professionals and information technology workers alike.

The HIT program is designed to train workers to support the new federal Health Information and Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The act requires health care entities to work toward adopting electronic record keeping that will allow patients' health information to be shared quickly by health care facilities across the county by 2014. It is designed to improve treatment, making sure that practitioners are aware of all their patients' conditions, medications, allergies and other information that might be vital to their care.

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Members of the class each hold up one finger to indicate that
they were the first group to start the HIT program.

Jim Gill, a licensed practical nurse at the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, was one of the first to apply for the new program. Before Gill launched his career in health care, he'd worked as a computer consultant for numerous companies. When he decided to make a career change and begin working toward his LPN degree, he supported himself and his family by working at Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, teaching staff about new health care software systems and serving as a monitor technician.

His background made Gill the perfect fit for the MATC's program. "I was interested in the HIT program immediately because it combines my experience in health care with my background in computers and in training people on computer systems," Gill said. "I believe that medical professionals will be needed to communicate with other medical professionals about these new electronic record keeping systems. We have to create systems with the end user in mind. In the past, programmers designed systems for programmers. They didn't always make sense to the end users, so people often used 'work arounds.' But I can help make systems more user-friendly in the first place, because I am a nurse. I'm the kind of user the systems are being designed for."

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HIT instructor Sheryl Krueger Dix explains procedures to her class.

HIT Program Prepares Workers for Different Workforce Roles
MATC is one of only 84 colleges in the country to offer HIT training. MATC is offering four tracks supporting different workforce roles -- clinician practitioner consultant, practice workflow and information management redesign specialist, implementation support specialist and technical/software support staff. Applicants are required to have a background in health care, information technology, or both. The HIT program will have 12 or 13 different cohorts, or groups, starting at staggered times between now and February 2012. Each group attends classes for six months, two nights a week, earning a 12-credit certificate.

Gill applied for the clinician/practitioner track and began the six-month certificate program in fall 2010. He is also working on his registered nursing degree at Waukesha County Technical College.

He has changed careers several times due to boredom and changes in job openings caused by economic conditions. Gill spent more than 20 years as an engineering technician at Briggs & Stratton until he felt he needed a career that better fit his personality. He became a computer consultant and support person in the late 1990s because he anticipated numerous job openings brought about by the approach of Y2K. His calling to the health care field came after he took care of his dying mother. "Caring for her opened a fire in me," he said.

Gill worked several years as a nurse at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, where he watched many nursing jobs eliminated due to fiscal constraints. Because of that, he is very sensitive to doing everything he can to ensure that he remains employable, especially in this difficult economy. "Having the HIT certificate will make me a more valuable employee with a greater range of skills," he said.

"Having the HIT certificate will make me a more valuable employee with a greater range of skills." 
-- Jim Gill

On the Ground Floor of a New Career
The HIT program is very exciting to Gill. "It's such a great opportunity," he said. "I keep telling other people to apply. The total change over to electronic records in health care is a huge undertaking. For the first time in my life, I'm in on the ground floor of something."

He explained, "Getting one health care system to 'talk' to another is a big job. The exchange of information between systems is very limited now. If we can do this, we can reduce medical errors and costs." It will also make medical care faster, Gill said. "The goal is to go paperless. Everyone that has clearance to obtain medical records for a patient will be able to go to a secure portal and get the information immediately. Then we won't have problems when a file is pulled and sent to one area, and no one else has access to it. With the new system, if a practitioner needs access to patient records at three in the morning, they will have it, and everyone will be on the same page."

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HIT instructor Russ Hinz works with students at the computer.

Gill said he is very impressed with MATC's HIT program and with the instructors. "The instructor for my first class was Russ Hinz, who is in charge of leading the change to the new electronic health records system for the entire Aurora Health Care system. He is a fascinating teacher with phenomenal connections to all the 'movers and shakers' in health care. My current instructor is Sheryl Krueger Dix, who works at Froedtert Hospital, and oversees electronic medical record keeping. She's very knowledgeable. We are learning from extremely qualified, instructors who are currently working in the field."

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HIT instructor Sheryl Krueger Dix shares an insight with students Tiffany Keogh and Jim Gill.

MATC will kick off the final cohort in the HIT six-month grant training programs Feb. 12, 2012.