Today’s interview features Gwen Darling, president and founder of Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today. Gwen’s efforts have resulted in two excellent industry resources for job opportunities and career development. HCITC and HCITT are now part of the HealthcareScene.com network.
In this episode, Gwen speaks to Managing Partner David Kushan about the following:
- Her start in Health IT
- History of Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today
- Evolution of professionals coming into HIT
- Website visitors’ background and knowledge
- How to get your start in Health IT
- Intangible market skills to which employers are open
If you like what you hear or have an opinion of your own, don’t be afraid to leave us a comment below! Who knows — with your great input, you might find yourself joining our guests with an interview of your very own.
Listen to the episode here: Healthcare IS Podcast
You may also like: Ep 5 - How To Get Into Contract Consulting - Dave Wolfe
*A full transcription of the show can be found at the end of this post.
David Kushan: welcome to our interview podcast today. I’m really excited to have Gwen Darling as our guest. Gwen is the president and founder of both Healthcare IT Central which is a career portal in the healthcare IT space and also the president and founder of Healthcare IT today. Which is a blog that focuses on workforce and career development in the healthcare IT space as well. Gwen thanks for being with us today.
Gwen Darling: Thanks for having me.
David Kushan: Just to get us started, tell us a little bit about how you began your career in this area within the healthcare IT space to give our listeners an idea of where you came from and what your motivations were to get going here.
Gwen Darling: My career has always alternated between marketing and IT and sometimes both for the last fifteen years or so. It started in the late 90s. I was working doing Internet marketing at the beginning of the Internet, I developed an online affiliate program for a medical grade skincare company in Springdale Arkansas. Eventually they asked me to run the entire company, which I definitely consider a career highlight. At the same time I was moonlighting at night from 9 PM to 2 AM as the Internet for beginners guide for about.com. So it was there that I learned strategies for how to build an online community because you really cant beat the tools that about.com provides. After five years at the skincare company, and doing the about.com at night I took a position as the director of sales and marketing at travel nurse across America. Which is a travel nurse staffing company. It was a very time intensive position with a 12 hour day commitment and at that point my kids were entering their teen years so after two years of that I decided to go into consulting on my own so I could be more available to the kids and have a better sense of what they were into so within a month of when I left to go out on my own I got a call from a travel nurse company in Boston who found me on LinkedIn and I spent the next few years doing consulting work for them, and eventually got involved in their health IT practice. As with anyone’s career is winds around to end up in a place that you hadn’t expected. It certainly was wonderful timing to land in healthcare IT back in 2008. That company eventually turned into Vitalize which people are familiar with that company. It was about that point that I realized that the IT industry was lacking a comprehensive job board and career portal so I decided to take leap and launch the site in may of 2009.
David Kushan: Being that, that’s what healthcare is focuses on it’s an example of not having your head in the sand and recognizing what opportunities are out there for you and taking advantage of them. So many people get stuck taking the typical career path and this is a perfect example of how you can leverage your skills and experience and take them in different directions. That’s fantastic.
So in 2009 I believe that Healthcare IT central and Healthcare IT Today started at a different time? Correct?
Gwen Darling: Right. I started the job board in may of 2009 and then realized shortly after that I realized it would be great to provide content on workforce and career development because there wasn’t really a dedicated place for professionals to go to get that kind of content. So we launched healthcare it today the following year in February of 2010.
David Kushan: From your standpoint you have a very unique perspective from the healthcare IT workforce and career space. When you started the site what was the most typical type of background, knowledge or skills of the average visitor to your site when you started in 2009-2010?
Gwen Darling: I think when we started; candidates who were coming to this site were already experienced candidates. They had several years behind them and they were just looking for their new opportunity. There weren’t a lot of candidates who were looking to break into the industry. Or those who were just entry level I think it was pretty much midrange to upper level range professionals who were experience individuals who were looking for their next opportunity.
David Kushan: Ok. As I asked you in the beginning what kind of backgrounds were you seeing and you were specific to that, have you seen a change over time? What’s kind of evolved over the last few years? I’m saying this to give listeners a perspective on what types of backgrounds exist or are getting into the healthcare IT space. Have you seen much of a change in the types of backgrounds that tend to visit the site today?
Gwen Darling: Yes. I’ve seen a huge change, which is nice because it now pretty much runs the gamete from new comers looking for entry level positions trying to get their foot in the door to the experienced CIOs who were looking for their next challenge and everybody in-between. As things progress in HIT and we start to see new job titles and job descriptions, that’s attracting candidates with interesting and diverse backgrounds too. I think a lot of times when people think HIT they think immediately the computer people who are building and implementing these new systems but there are also sales and marketing, project management, there are a lot of other angles that you can come into the industry and a lot of other needs. I think as things are progressing in HIT those things are starting to grow, we’re seeing really diverse candidate backgrounds come to the site.
David Kushan: Absolutely I can see where you could see that because we get quite a bit of that at Healthcare IS as well. Tell me from the employer perspective. You have employers that are advertising on your site have you seen much of a change over time in the skill sets that have become the highest in demand over the past couple of years as opposed to four years ago?
Gwen Darling: Yeah, you know, again it’s starting to expand. Of course, if you are a certified professional you are always gong to be in demand and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. That’s certainly not the only way to be successful and have job security in this industry. Something that’s really interesting that I’m starting to see a lot more demand for is project management professionals which makes sense. Once these projects are implemented, there needs to be someone to oversee the next step and so I’m seeing a lot of project management positions and then of course with the deadlines coming up, for instance for ICD10, starting to see a lot more positions opening up for ICD10 trainers and project managers so I’m pretty sure that’s going to heat up the deadline you know is coming up next October.
David Kushan: Sure. Absolutely. You know with so many people coming to your site, and looking to break into the industry, one of the questions I get everyday, I’d like to just put it your way to get your perspective is, this challenge that people have of wanting to get into the industry there’s so much demand for skill sets or for certain skill sets in this industry. You mention epic, being one of them. How does somebody get his or her foot in the door somewhere? I know there are a lot of new sites out there providing training and certifications, what are some successful ways people with maybe a general background that would be a good foundation to get into this industry to get their foot in the door?
Gwen Darling: Well that’s the million-dollar question as you know and like you I get asked that question on a regular basis. I’m a real believer in education. When the government awarded all of those millions of dollars for training and set up the workforce development program, where they funded universities and community colleges a lot of those programs were thrown together in a hurry and from what I understand in speaking to a lot of the students and even the administrators of those programs, they fail to look at job placement as part of the overall program so they were putting a lot of these students through programs with the understood promise that they would be employable when they got out. And that’s just not what’s happened. So there are a lot of people who have been disillusioned by the whole education side of things. So that being said, I think that a lot of the universities now understand that’s something to include in their program, and so they are starting to include job placement services within their programs. So I do a lot of work with the University of Illinois, Chicago for instance. They have a masters in informatics program their candidates are having really great luck finding positions after graduation because UIC is forming partnerships with employers in taking a big interest in their graduates employment. I would say if someone does want to go the education route and pick up some extra education, to make sure that whatever university or organization is providing the education has those job placement services as part of what they offer. That would be something I would definitely recommend. I know it’s difficult too, I read a lot of these other professionals who are giving advice on this and they say, well volunteer. Well that’s difficult to do because as a volunteer your not getting paid. So I hesitate to even suggest putting in some volunteer time. I know that if someone is already in the clinical side of things it’s a lot easier to get into HIT that can be as simple as just expressing an interest in learning more in that side. I’ve talked to a lot of candidates who that’s how they got their start. They just made it clear to their supervisors, ‘this is something I want to learn,’ and they were afforded the opportunity to do so.
It’s tough, it’s just tough. It’s a difficult deal. You know the other thing is, there’s a lot of opportunity in some of these areas we’ve talked about in sales and marketing. Not only project management, but product management. So there are a lot of different ways to come into this industry from a lot of different angles. So it’s not just necessarily the hands on computer kinds of positions that will get you there.
David Kushan: Well that’s great. That’s very detailed robust advice I appreciate that. You went into some detail that I wasn’t even expecting to hear. I think that one of the main points I took away from this is that the industry has gotten to the point where from a competitive stand point from the educational institutions that they are offering more than just the educated part of it. It’s also the helping you take that education and find something tangible out on the workforce and that’s good to hear that those institutions are realizing that is a big component in the big picture.
Gwen Darling: Yeah, absolutely and I think too that the hospitals that I’m starting to talk to now will start to hire more for talent and initiative and get that training for the person who is not necessarily completely ready to go. Completely certified or completely up to speed on whatever it is that they need. Are you seeing more of that happening?
David Kushan: Well, let me ask you... you kind of took one of my questions there [laughs]. One of my questions I wanted to ask you was knowing that you speak with many of these employers that use your site to attract people, what I was going to ask you, and then I’ll share after, are you seeing since those specific skills are, since organizations can’t find everyone they are looking for with specific skills, what are some intangible skills employers are open to?
In my perspective there is still a bare minimum level of knowledge and experience that employer has to have but I am seeing that, for instance they’re looking for someone on Siemens or Cerner and they don’t have it, I do have a couple clients right now who have been willing to take somebody with what they consider to be a very strong transferable knowledge base in some of the intangible areas that exist overall. What do you see from that standpoint?
Gwen Darling: I’m starting to see more of that too and you know I don’t always see if reflected in the job description and that could be a whole other conversation about how a strong job description can be helpful on both sides of the hiring equation but I am starting to see some of these jobs that are posted where they are talking about transferable skills. I think that of course with various government deadlines looming there’s, I don’t want to call it panic, but there’s a hurry up and get this done feeling that’s pretty pervasive and so thinking about having to drill a little bit deeper into a candidates background is key to see if this person is hirable. It’s a commitment on the employer’s side and I just think that’s going to have to be a commitment that’s going to need to be made in order for things to continue to move forward.
David Kushan: Absolutely I don’t think there would be many who would disagree with that. I think it’s the constant challenge of organizations looking for the right people for the long run but doing so while trying to find the exact skill set they need for yesterday and that’s where the challenge comes into play most of the time.