Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alumni Interview: Clinical Information Analyst Melissa

Melissa attended Drexel from 2008 to 2010 as an online student. By taking advantage of reduced student rates, Melissa was a member of SLA for a few years, as well as ALA and ASIST, but now that she has graduated and has to pay full membership fees, feels the need to be more selective about joining professional associations. Currently, she is a member of the Medical Library Association (MLA), and plans to one day join Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). She highly recommends that current students take advantage of student rates, conference stipends/grants, and association listservs, because they offer an excellent opportunity to learn about the professional world.

While attending school, Melissa worked in a corporate library, a hospital library, and a law library, mostly working with technical services and knowledge management. During her last quarter at Drexel, she took the Healthcare Informatics class (INFO 648), and really enjoyed it. Melissa was "...very impressed with the overall quality of my online experience. There are challenges to being an online student, but the convenience and flexibility can't be beat. I had many excellent professors who challenged me to do my best and I find myself silently thanking them on a regular basis as I confront the many situations at work that have some aspect of "information management" at their core."

What is your current job? Clinical Informatics Analyst at Olympic Medical Center, a small hospital in Port Angeles, WA. 

How did you find your job? I was extremely lucky that this job was being advertised right at the same time that I was planning to move to Port Angeles for family reasons. I applied and was competing against other people who had actual clinical experience, but I guess I interviewed well! I also had excellent references and had just taken the Healthcare Informatics class at Drexel.

What does your typical day look like? Is this what you expected when you took the job? My days bounce between sitting at the compeer, puzzling out some issues with the electronic medical record system (mostly issues caused by the interaction of imperfect end-users interacting with imperfect computers!) and going to meetings. It is rare to have a day without any meetings, whether it is sitting down with a clinical manager deciding on what their SharePoint site needs, or participating in a regular team meeting, or presenting about a topic (like Information Security) to a group of administrators. The word Analyst in my title is very apt, as I do a lot of problem-solving and "reference interviews" with people who are experiencing issues.

I am learning a lot about healthcare information technology (hardware and software), and I am getting more familiar with clinical processes and the way medicine works. Those were things I expected I would learn. What I didn't expect is just how much my librarian and knowledge management background would be relevant! I was recently assigned to be Primary Support for SharePoint, which is the hospital's main platform for collaboration and Internet functions. This is both scary and exciting, because it has so much potential from a Knowledge Management perspective, but it takes a lot of time and energy. I am also on the Education Committee, so I bring my "librarian" self to those meetings, but it constantly frustrates me that we don't have an actual medical Librarian or Hospital Library!

What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy solving problems for doctors and nurses (and support staff) which enables them to provide better patient care and possibly save lives. I also enjoy being able to collaborate with others on various process involvement projects, because it's like solving future problems (preemptively!) There is also more to learn, and that is very satisfying. 

What are some common misconceptions about your job/area of librarianship? That "informatics" is the same as IT. Nobody really understands what "clinical informatics" means, or what we do (until we help them with a problem...and then they know who to call! But they still couldn't explain what informatics means.) To confuse matters even more, our Clinical Informatics team just merged with our Applications (software) team, so now there is a "software" team and a "hardware" team under the umbrella of Information Services. However, informatics is not just about software, it is largely about people and how they do their work (processes and workflow). But since we usually help people with problems that stem from computers, we end up getting labeled as IT.

What was the most valuable thing you did or learned while in library school? I'm extremely glad that I ended up pursuing the Knowledge Management/ Competitive Intelligence concentration. I have used the skills from those classes on many occasions. I also am thankful for learning about the structure of relational databases, and the main principles behind Information Architecture and website design. I think library school also instilled a deep appreciation for the value of providing excellent customer service. 

What inspired you to choose this career? Ironically, my very first library job was as a Library Assistant at a hospital library, but that was a job just for the sake of getting a job- until I feel in love with it during my tenure! My boss encouraged me to go to library school, so I did, but I did not think I would end up back in a hospital setting.

What do you wish you had learned more about? I actually wish I had learned more search skills! However, after some years of work experience (but not necessarily search experience) I know that after a certain point you can't learn it in school. You just have to jump in the pool and start helping your customers even though you don't think you know what you are doing! I call myself a librarian, when the situation warrants, but I often feel like I'm not a "real" librarian because I'm not doing long Boolean searches in obscure databases to find articles or books for grateful patrons. But I don't let that bother me too much- because I really love what I AM doing for my "patrons".

Any tips for current students? Learn about informatics! And especially consider going into the field of healthcare in some capacity, because we need more people with our skill set. It's one field where jobs are available these days, too (although it helps to have even a small bit of experience with something healthcare related, so volunteer, or cultivate healthcare connections in your network).

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