The Health IT field is extremely people-centered and produces a tangible outcome that impacts most everyone in society. The healthcare environment is rapidly changing, creating an ever-present need for qualified professionals to step up and contribute to important work that can make a true difference in the lives of others.
Dr. Erin Van Dyke, graduate program director of UMBC’s Health Information Technology graduate program joined us for this episode of UMBC’s Mic’d Up Podcast. She shares her insights into the field, how students can best prepare for success, the vast amounts of opportunities present, and her career journey that led her to our UMBC community.
Learn more about UMBC's graduate program in Health IT: https://professionalprograms.umbc.edu/health-information-technology/
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Welcome to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up Podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs. We're joined today by Dr. Erin Van Dyke, graduate program director with UMBC's Health Information Technology Graduate Program. We hope you enjoy this episode. Welcome, Dr. Van Dyke. It's a pleasure to have you join us today. Thank you so much. Pleasure to be here. Can you tell us a little bit about the path that you took to land here at UMBC? Sure, certainly. It's always kind of funny to me to reflect on that path just because I think it's been kind of an interesting one and one that I like to reflect on with students honestly, who have kind of reflected on their own path as well. Mine was somewhat of an unconventional one. I actually initially started in film and marketing originally with the intention actually of looking at film and digital media for education. But then, like a lot of people, obviously we're all consumers of health care, of each of us or our patients. And I have someone in my household who is a kidney transplant patient. And through that experience that we initially were in the Pacific Northwest and that actually brought us here out to Baltimore, to Johns Hopkins Hospital, too. The idea was we going get a kidney transplant and eventually we would go back home. He's doing quite well now. So I just wanted to preface that it was through that whole experience, though, what led us here when we were discovering a lot of information about what happened, kind of what led to this point. Long story short, a lot of it stemmed from an information error, something so simple as just a transcription error issue with whether it was a provider, a clinician, someone had just done something so simple with a medication and just simply put, one zero dot zero as opposed to one zero zero zero. And so because of that, it wound up being the wrong amount of medication, which wound up creating a neurotoxicity, and it created damage in the kidney, which resulted in this much larger ongoing issue. And, you know, like a lot of patients and patients, families, you know, you go through this debriefing process, you're trying to understand what happened. But I guess for me, you know, being three thousand miles from home here in Baltimore City and I'm just sitting here at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and I'm just marveling at just what happened. I mean, just what what happened. And furthermore, what can prevent something like this from happening? It was through the conversations, actually, as as a patient's family member, talking to nurses as they were in the hospital room and we're talking about this again, this was had this happened three thousand miles away. But they were talking to me about some of the different changes that were happening at their hospital. They were saying, well, we're changing right now from a patient, you know, from from from a patient's paper record over to an electronic record right now. And one of the intentions of this is to be able to help prevent errors like this from occurring. Well, me, you know, having this time, I decided to start doing my own research until, like, what is this and what does this mean? Long story short, I wound up doing you know, I wound up becoming interested in the topic. I wound up working at Johns Hopkins Hospital myself. I went up working in the clinical informatics team over at Johns Hopkins Nursing. I actually joined UMBC as a student. This was about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, and in the information systems department. And this just became my area of study. I just I very much just wanted to learn and understand this growing world of how are we using technology to be able to help patients prevent errors? And just to be able to interest improve patient care. Wow. That is amazing. I'm really happy that your family member is doing well now. Yes. Yes. And it's amazing how a personal experience that you're passionate about led to your career path. And in doing so, now you're able by doing that career path, you're able to help other people through students, sort through the career work that you did to be able to help them not experience what you had to go through. That's powerful. Thank you. What excites you most about this field? I think what excites me about it is twofold. One is the fact of the course it's people centered, you know, the fact that it doesn't get it impacts all of us. It's you know, there is there's a real tangible outcome that impacts all of us. At the end. And it's the fact that it's ever changing. There's this term that we often refer to in healthcare as being a rapid change environment. And I think if you could ask any of my students, I use this term constantly in my courses because I feel it just perfectly describes what what the situation is. It's constantly changing as soon as we think we have it pegged down. You know, we have new understanding of conditions. We have a new understanding of treatment. We have a new innovations that we're incorporating into health care and the bedside in terms of how we approach patient care. And I think that's exciting. It creates new opportunities for health care clinicians, for Health I.T. professionals to be able to step in, to be able to help support patient care. I just wanted us to just a very exciting field. Well, the fact that it's dynamic and ever changing right away tells the person how important it is because we things rapidly changing like that. We need people in this field to be able to read and respond to their experiences and to be able to push forward and move us to the next step so that we're continuing to change and evolve with the times. Very well said. And, you know, I'm and being able to have people who come from these various different positions of expertize. You know, it's one of those that I often will have new students who will come forward. And I'll say, you know, like, well, I want to be an expert in health I.T. And that's a perfectly reasonable question coming into a program. But one of the things that when you leave the program, I think students leave with a real firm understanding of is the recognition that there are so many different threads that you could follow within health I.T. You know, are you more programing based or are you more focused on the security side or are you more focused on how to support, you know, the actual human factors component? As far as how people are actually interacting with the systems, there's so many different components that you can follow and different directions that you can take. And it's something that I feel really does make a difference, that speaks to the need the industry need, which is really important, especially for prospective students who are considering entering a new field. There may be career changers or maybe they're just trying to up their credentials to be able to move further in this particular field. So it's wonderful to hear that there really is a necessity for this students coming out of this program. They're going to have their opportunities available to them, which is a really cool thing. There really is. How did you know you wanted to be in the industry? And I think you did answer that quite eloquently. But if you had anything else to add to that, I think there was certainly that that personal draw or you know, that one of the things I discovered is kind of part of my further study at Hopkins was there's the concept of your personal why there's certainly that personal why that drew me in. But as far as what it was, where I kind of felt like I found my place in, it was certainly one of the first things that I kind of maybe gave me some doubt or maybe question whether or not this was, in fact, the right path for me. You know, certainly I mean, coming from my background, I'm you know, I'm not a clinician by, you know, by trade. I don't have any clinicians in my background. You know, in my family, my you know, my mother was the first to go to college in our family, you know, and I here I am at this prestigious academic medical institution. I am surrounded by incredibly intelligent, extremely well accomplished people. And, you know, it was through that that looking back, I can remember in the early days having some doubt as far as like, wow, why am I going to be able to make a contribution here? Is this really something that I'm going to be able to be a part of in a meaningful way? And one of the things that I found so great about health I.T. and something that I courage my students to why I feel it's a really great feel to be a part of is the fact that it is so diverse inherently, you know, multidisciplinary. You know, the fact that just it is a field that functions by bringing in different perspectives, different experiences, different backgrounds. You have some people who come in straight out of college. You have second careers. You have people who go to the military or in the military. They come in, they come back, you know, and they use these really useful skills and they apply it in the healthcare field, both in terms of medical and technology. So it's people leveraging all of their cumulative strengths together towards a common purpose. And that's something that made me feel like I could further contribute in a way that was really meaningful. Wow, that's a great answer. What is your goal for students in this program? My goal for students is. It might seem like a funny answer at first, but honestly, for me, the biggest thing is I love when students come in and they have a goal. What I really love, though, is when they allow themselves the freedom to be able to open that up a little bit. To say, you know, I guess I'm coming here because I want to be a programmer. I'm coming here because I want to work in security and health I.T. I'm coming here because I want to do this. But I'm going to allow myself to be able to explore other possibilities as well. I'm going to network with my peers. I want to hear and learn about research happening in other areas of health I.T. because even, you know, what I found is that that does not in any way actually distract from students' ultimate goals, ultimate you paths that they want to be on. But it just further enriches it, because by doing that, you know, being able to connect with those other peers that they otherwise normally may not talk to or may not work with because they may think, oh, well, you and I aren't necessarily on the same path. We're not working towards the same goal. You know, it's through those that I've seen, you know, just through my experience here in the field and that you see in general where they have formed, you know, long lasting industry relationships, networking opportunities, and in some cases have found. Well, yeah, I am maybe still working, particularly in this one area of health I.T., but my scope has broadened and I'm now finding myself working in an area that maybe I didn't realize I had to strengthen or I didn't realize that I had an aptitude. But because I gave myself the gift of being open, allowing myself to explore. And I really feel like that's what this time it's, you know, in in university is meant for. Absolutely. That ability to reflect on your studies, on your path so far in life and on your peers and what they are doing really opens up a lot of avenues and it'll create a wider scope. And so you're able to be more empathetic and understanding and self-aware. It's a really great attribute or quality of being in a university setting. It's a chance to be able to find your footing and explore different things. Expand your mind. Exactly. Yes. Yes. If you could tell your younger self something. What would that be? You know, it's funny. I've discovered this as a parent being able to you know, you kind of parent your child in a way where you kind of reflect back on who you were as a child. And you say, oh, you know, I if I had known this, maybe, perhaps I would have done this differently. And I if I find I take a similar approach to that as well with what we have with mentorship, with advising and with students as well. Because as I think back to my younger self, one of the reasons I think I prioritize things like exploration, giving yourself the freedom to be able to do this is I definitely was a perfectionist at elementary school, knew exactly what I was going to be. I knew exactly what I was going to do. No one could deter me from my path. And I think there's a very, very admirable things about that. And I think there's some in some ways it can be very helpful. But I also feel there's a lot of opportunities that in the past I look back on, I just go, you know, if I allowed myself more time to explore this, if I'd allowed myself more opportunities to be able to just kind of broaden my scope a little bit. You know, I'm very happy with where I wound up, where I wound up. But I feel like it's all because life had to give me a very unusual nudge, you know, just to be able to be able to get me where I am. And I feel that I'm not I'm I mean, I'm very happy. I'm very happy where I am. And it's something that I think if I could go back to my younger self, it would it would be to just be able to give myself that gift of exploration and that and that gift of freedom just to be able to think, well, you know, this is this is something you're interested in, is something you do you feel like you want to do. But you know what? If. Yeah, that what if question. That's a really powerful question. And also that perfectionism. I think that a lot of people experience that perfectionism. And it really is limiting because you you block yourself from opportunities where if you weren't so worried about being perfect, you would allow that freedom to be able to just explore and not worry about failing necessarily, because as long as you're trying, you're not failing. So, yeah, I agree with that. All right. Let's talk a little bit about the program itself, in your opinion. What is the value of UMBC's health I.T. graduate program? I feel that Health IT has a lot of value. The one that comes immediately to mind, actually, is something that I've heard both from students but also from faculty. And I feel that that's one of the reasons it stands out to me the most, is because of all the stakeholders. I feel they are the ones that can honestly speak to it the most. And that is the fact that, you know, it is again, it's an opportunity to both give kind of a broad foundation of skills and understanding and knowledge, you know, so that no matter where you're coming from, we want to meet you where you are. And so making sure that you have those core foundational skills and understanding, but then be able to provide the flexibility to be able to have you be able to then specialize then in three or electives, you know, go based upon your chosen field, based upon your chosen direction where you wanted to specialize. What what electives would be able to help best support you? In what direction in are your professional goals and in our advisement. You know, when I meet with students, that's that's the primary focus is how can we tailor this program to be able to support you in your ongoing goals. And it all really does, of course, culminate in our capstone. And so is this. Of course, when they as they graduate, they're going to be completing a capstone project. And that is the I think more than anything, that is the what it all kind of ties all the threads together. And, you know, when they say, you know, I feel like it was through this project that I was able to pull what I learned from this course, pull what I learned from this, what I was learning through this job, what I did through this internship, and really create something very tangible that they can then use to be able to launch themselves into the next phase of their career. Can you talk about the industry needs and how the program addresses them? One of the things that I appreciate about this program is, well, you know, one, we always have faculty who are actively working in the industry right now. And I really feel that that's a great benefit to the students. And something that I've received feedback as a new GPD is different students that they said they've appreciated because it's days as they have had questions about the industry, as they had wondered about their career path. They have mentors right there who are very knowledgeable about what is currently happening, being able to forecast in the future. So I think having that direct connection there in the classroom is extremely important. From as part of a larger program planning. So we work with an advisory board and the advisory board goes where how we are able to connect with our stakeholders in the industry. Just to be sure that we kind of have our finger on the pulse of, you know, what? What are those current industry priorities? Is our curriculum in line with those priorities to ensure that our students are receiving the proper skills, knowledge and competencies that they need in order to be prepared for the next up on coming challenges? That thought leadership within industry is really valuable, especially making sure that what's happening in the classroom is matching the needs of what's happening in the industry. It's had applicability and that is so valuable with our programs. I think you see the professional programs. I completely agree. How could a student how how can a student benefit the most from this program? It seems like a fairly straightforward question, but it's just one of those things where it's like, well, I mean, when you consider the ingredients that are necessary to be successful students to feel successful and satisfied in your experience as a student. You know, here I think there's a lot of components to it. I think a lot of times there are students, you know, who worry about. We know, well, is this the right time? Am I am I in the right place? Is it the perfect time? You know. And again, going back to what I would say to my younger self, you know, looking back, it's there's a lot of opportunities. I know that I feel like I missed out on to simply because I was worried about is it right? Is it perfect? And because the problem is that there is no perfect time and the right time is the time that you make it. And I've never met a student who ever went through this or any program. Whoever said, you know, at the end of the day, I really regret ever having completed my degree. I really regret actually starting. You know, this is just one of those things where, I mean, it's admits we know, especially when it's all done, when it's all said and done. And you have just completed this, you know, great milestone in your later life, in your career. You know, I think it's just something that's just so important to your professional growth, your development that I mean, really I mean, you know, really the right time is now. Right. Time is now. It is in terms of students. Ideal students, if they were an ideal student who could benefit the most from a program like this. Well, we tried our best to be able to meet students where they are. And that's really kind of one of the key points of the program, certainly in terms of, you know, the students that I think would find the most immediate benefit are going to be those who either are either professionally working in health care, currently say, and they are looking for more health I.T. background. They really are wanting a more stronger health I.T. foundation, say, when whether they've been working in hospitals, dentistry, emergency health. But they're recognizing in their career that, you know, well, obviously, health I.T. is now at the foundation of everything we do. And so I you know, so I in my career, I would greatly benefit from being able to take the next step of being able to really focus more on health I.T. focused curriculum. Likewise, people who have more of an I.T. background, but they themselves don't have a background in health care. And they're recognizing, obviously, especially in our current world right now, there's clearly a very big focus, very big investment right now, resources, understandably, in the need for a technology around health care, around health policy, around various different area areas associated with health. And so with that, I feel that students who also have a background in technology, but also feel that they're there, that there's that gap that they need to fill in order to be able to make that leap over into the health care realm, that this program could vary greatly, serve them as well. What would you say makes you indices, health I.T. program stand apart from similar programs at other institutions? I really do feel when it comes down to it, I've been noticing it as I've been reviewing students Capstone's as I've been talking to them both, as they've been preparing for the Capstone's and as they've been talking about them, as, you know, preparing for graduation. I really feel like it is the ability that they have to tailor that capstone to their individual goals, to what it is that they want to pursue. I feel that the that the faculty that we have in this program, you know, because of their diverse background in the industry, because they are working professionals, they just have such this just deep, deep understanding of the industry and a recognition of the various different directions that students can take. And so, you know, rather than trying to, you know, put people into boxes and say, well, you know, you need to go here, you need to go here. They do a beautiful job of working with each of the students and being able to understand what what is it that you need in your career, in your industry, in your organization. And what can we do to be able to pull the threads together from your education that you've received here to be able to help catapult you to where you want to go? And I mean, the work that has come out of here through these Capstone's, it really does speak to the passion and the interest that they genuinely do put into these projects. It's not just another assignment. It's not just another project. It really is a passion project. And it sounds like it's really tailored learning, which is really important. And I think it helps keep a student motivated and on task. And it's purposeful work because it's something that is meaningful to that student. Absolutely. Can you share a broad overview of the curriculum to give people an idea of what is involved in this program? So we have six foundational courses that every student takes. And again, that's part of our, you know, making sure that no matter where you're coming from, you know, we're able to ensure that all students have, you know, this foundational knowledge through that. What we're doing is we're basically walking you through two phases of health I.T., essentially of foundational concepts, you know, all the way from, you know, all of the key topics that he would learned throughout the industry, depending upon where you are, to ensure that you're getting exposure to various different things, whether it's how we use natural learning, whether it's how we use natural language, whether it's how we apply evaluation in health I.T. So even if that's not necessarily your chosen field, it's at least ensuring that you're aware that these are the different roles that occur within health I.T. and the various different focus areas that while you yourself may not pursue that, you're certainly going to encounter colleagues who do. And it's something that you need to be aware of in your career, being able to have a course in data analytics, being able to look at public health and just to ensure that people have shortages. Just if it were a real firm understanding of some of the core competencies that are necessary to be successful in health I.T. And this is all based upon what we've heard from the industry experts. And then in addition to that, students have the ability to take four electives as well. We have electives that are within the program that we recommend. Those that, you know, if you are someone who is, you know, taking a more traditional health I.T. path, you know, those are the ones that we would recommend. But certainly, as, again, as I said, we again try to meet students where they are and we want to be able to kind of tailor the experience depending upon what they need. So, you know, if you are, say, a student to again, certainly in our current environment, you know, right now we're we're having to look at a lot of issues having to do with population health. We're looking at issues having to do with epidemiology. Well, as your advisor, I meet with you. We discuss that, but we talk about, well, based upon your capstone, based upon your professional goals, what elective would best serve you to be and how would you use or the outcomes of this course and apply that into your work both here at the program, but also in your career moving forward just to make sure that this isn't just simply checking boxes. We want to make sure that this is a meaningful, useful experience for Ofri, for each student. You talking about certain areas of focus within the health I.T. industry. Could you go over those in terms of what what that looks like? What do you see potential landscape that people could find themselves in within this industry? Certainly, one of the things that I I certainly experienced by for example, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital for 10 years. That's an experience that I often will call back to, for example, when I'm talking to students about some of the various different directions that they may find themselves in, because they even say, for example, even if you're only looking solely within working within one organization, say even if you're only limiting yourself within one scope, you know, you may, for example, say, well, you know, I want to work on specifically the I.T. side of things, but you're still within the scope of a healthcare organization. So you have to be able to say, for example, you might be working on the side where you need to understand the policies that go into play within health I.T. And so you're going to be working with stakeholders to be able to understand, well, what are the current laws that are that are in place right now? How do we apply that? We're looking at things such as data security and health care. How do we apply that when we're looking at the acquisition of new technologies in a health care environment? You know what? You want to be able to speak to that and have an understanding of who are the key players, how to apply this and to be able to be at the table and to be able to best represent all of your different constituents within the hospital in those discussions. Also, when you consider the fact that there are so many different disciplines, oftentimes, you know, for example, my case, I work for the Department of Nursing. So you have for example, you'll have nursing informatics, but you also have informatic specific to, you know, physicians. You have informatic specific to dentistry, to pharmacy. So depending upon where you're individually drawn, you can be drawn safe to a particular domain such as that. You can be interested in things such as security. You can be interested in a particular type of technology. For example, some people might say, you know, I'm especially interested in the use of artificial intelligence and health I.T. I want to be able to explore how can we be able to use this to be able to address new innovations. And so that in its own becomes its own separate subsection within the umbrella that is health I.T. So it's then that's one thing as a program that we kind of keeping our finger on the pulse. We need to kind of categorize and be able to make sure that we are reflecting the needs of our students and the industry as well. Sounds like the world is the oyster for students. There's so many possibilities. It's amazing. What would you say hiring managers look for in candidates in terms of skills, maybe traits of people, their educational credentials, experience? What are these? What are the types of things that people look for when they're hiring someone? Well, of course. I mean, depending upon the individual jobs and certainly there's going to be specific credentials that may vary depending upon what type of job. And certainly if you're going more towards a data, a data role, there's certain specific credentials that they look for. If it's more project management, you know, certainly there's there's more specialized credentials. And that's one thing that I'm advising students. We'll talk a little bit about, about in terms of depending on your path, what might make you the most attractive candidate for either your current position? Say, if you're looking for promotion now or say if you're looking for other organizations in the future as well, in terms of, you know, one of the things that I've not noticed that we have been speaking with hiring manager and having hired people myself and in the past as well, I really feel that one of the things that hiring managers really do appreciate a lot, though, is the ability to learn and the interest in learning. You know, people who come in with a learner's mindset, a growth mindset, being able to come in and say, you know, here's what I did. You know, here is a capstone project I worked on here. It's an independent study I worked on that I was motivated on my own, you know, to want to pursue that interests that drive that self starter and just the ability and the interest in the industry to say, well, I did this on my own and did something that I want to learn more about. And here's kind of a presentation of what I can do, I think is a really great way of being able to present to a hiring manager for them to say, I you know, I can really see your potential and I could really see what potential skills, you know, that you could bring to our team and especially in the health care realm, you know, health care I.T., I think that's so important because again, going back to the rapid change environment, as a health care hiring manager, you're having to not just think about what are the positions that are available today. You're having to think about, well, what are we going to have in two years, five years, 10 years? And is this person adaptable? And is this person going to be able to learn new skills? Is this person going to be able to take on new responsibilities? And if you are, someone has shown a passion for learning, a passion for taking on new roles, learning new information. I think that makes someone a very, very attractive candidate. I agree. We talked about the ever changing dynamic nature of this industry and tying that to somebody who is a learner by nature. That's the perfect combination. It really is. And the last question I have for you, is there anything else about the health I.T. program that I haven't asked you that you think might add value to this conversation? What do you think makes that held a key of a great career for someone is that it is just innately of a a multidisciplinary industry. It's something where it brings in various different people from different perspectives, different backgrounds, different disciplines. And I really feel that that's something that in our program and certainly as the new GPD, you know, one of the things I feel that we excel at here at UMBC is the fact that we have so many strong, wonderful programs here and we have strong collaborations and partnerships between programs as well. And that's one of the things that as a new GPD that I look forward to continue to strengthen as well as our collaboration between the different programs, because is through these multidisciplinary collaborations that I feel that students can continue to build the skill of working with people from diverse backgrounds, with people from, you know, who bring a different skill sets, because these are the very people who they will either have or will continue to work with in the health care industry to be able to bring forward new innovations. Now, more than ever, I really feel that getting into help, I feel is great simply because not only is it increasingly in demand. It's such an essential part of our lives right now, considering our current reality with the pandemic. It's frankly a call to action. It's something where anybody who frankly has the skills, who has the passion, who has the talent now more than ever. If you have the interest and this is an area we need, we need you. There is so much opportunity to be able to contribute. And just to be able to make the world better. Thank you so much, Dr. Van Dkye, for sharing your insights with us today. It's really been an incredibly enlightening conversation and it proves that there is such a necessity out there for health I.T. experts tell us it's a perfect time to enter this field. Thank you for sharing those thoughts with us today. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of you and be fees miked up. We hope you enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about you won't be fees. Health Information Technology Graduate Program. Please visit us at HealthTech.umbc.edu.