Working in Healthcare IT

Part of the appeal of working in IT is that there should be a constant stiving to learn and excel. Programming and technology depends on being cutting-edge, staying ahead of the curve. As someone who works at Symantec once told me: ‘Technology is an arms race – you’ve got to do it better than all the other guys out there.’ Of course, Symantec is security software, so his view may be a little more militaristic than, say, a data analyst.

Anyways, I digress. Another part of the allure is that IT is in huge demand: the job market is booming, and I don’t really forsee a time where humanity will have automated our business and medical processes enough to step away and leave the computer systems in the hands of the machines. The Transhuman Singularity isn’t here, and the need for technical specialists is only accelerating. What I do see as a threat includes outsourcing software and hardware development, viruses such as Stuxnet (broad-reaching, networking-crippling, ‘contagion’-style viruses), and having a lack of well-trained technical staff. It is fairly easy to earn a degree from DeVry university, even in Computer Science, but what is it really worth? Grads from Carnegie Mellon and MIT are regularly offered 80k-100k once they matriculate, but with college, reputation counts as much or more than grades – unless you are attending graduate school, it hardly matters whether you were a A+ or a B- student.

Healthcare IT is a curious spot to be in, because we exist in an economic bubble, but it is a bubble that is pushing the job market higher. Due to Federal regulations (Medicare reimbursements vs. mandatory medical record system implementation), almost every major hospital system in the nation, along with a majority of the smaller players, is revolutionizing their medical practices by introducing an electronic medical record system (EMR). This means that unemployment for healthcare IT specialists is currently, and will remain, fairly low.

A word of caution – I don’t know whether the push to establish all these health informatics college majors and graduate programs is a good idea, overall. While I see the employment field as robust, I fear that the health informatics programs may just be an educational bubble – someone is probably better majoring in information systems or computer science, instead of focusing on merely one sub-set. The same can be said for computer security degrees. Narrowing down too tightly before graduation will unduly hamper your career options after college.

Our department’s CEO showed us a slide (I don’t have it currently), with the national averages for unemployment, vs. the technical field. National unemployment averages around 8.x% (it varies by the month). Information technology (as a whole) hovers around the low 4.x%, while healthcare IT clocks in at a remarkably low 2.x%. When the implementation bubble decompresses, I expect that the unemployment rate will rise to around the national technical average (4.x%), but healthcare IT will remain a strong contender for at least 5-10 more years.

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