by Daria Rosen | Senior Manager, Client Services
Having been in the technology field since the great Y2K non-disaster (remember that?), it’s been a while and for a woman with degrees in business, how I ended up in health care technology is a story that needs telling.
It needs telling because in the United States, despite some very medium efforts, women of color still only make up 9 percent of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) workforce.
While that stat continues to confound me as someone in healthcare IT, what amazes me even more is watching clinical staff interact with technology on a daily basis, interact with software, dose medication for patients and create workarounds for the technical challenges that happen throughout shifts. It dawns on me that clinical staff are already in a STEM field, they just don’t realize it yet.
So, why aren’t more nurses and other clinical personnel taking on IT leadership positions in their hospitals or healthcare organizations? They are often women, people of color, and hail from multiple cultures and ethnicities. As we see from the stat above, they likely did not follow the STEM route in their education but technology, especially in healthcare, isn’t all traditional STEM.
I think a lot of it has to do with how technology is discussed within our industry. Frequently, when you walk into a room of IT managers, you’d be hard-pressed to label the language as English. The jargon and terms in IT are deep and convoluted and most likely have an acronym.
Many IT professionals tend to think we know best and are not to be bothered with the wizardry happening behind the scenes. Just know the wizards have it handled. To quote a famous wizard, “you shall not pass” when it comes to questioning the IT office.
Transferable skills from non-technical endeavors are what brought me into IT. The project? Y2K. During the first meeting in a conference room swimming with jargon, it felt as if I was hearing a foreign language and I asked if they would explain the conversation to me as if I was in kindergarten. Then I would repeat what I thought they were describing. Back and forth questioning ensured we were understanding one another.
That made all the difference. Being able to understand the technical solutions available, then translate the solution in layman terms gives me a unique insight to be able to speak to clinicians as they explain what they need and desire for their daily workflows. Their wishes are then translated into jargon my IT peers understand.
When people think about technology, they tend to think about the computer. The wires, data, pixels, dashboards, and APIs…see how the jargon slips in?
What I want to tell clinical staff is you CAN work in technology. You don’t need to be a software engineer. You’re already an engineer. You’re an engineer of people. You translate complicated diagnoses, medications, treatments, and advice to sick or scared patients and distraught families.
You are an end-user. You operate MRI, radiology, and bedside equipment. You’re in the hallway with the patient in room 304 calling for you, the family from room 312 is standing six-feet away waiting to talk to you, you’re juggling physician calls and texts while trying to type patient notes for the distraught patient who was crying because they are worried about their dog being home alone. You are amazing and you can, I assure you, handle a discussion about interoperability and care coordination platforms. You have the skills to be a valuable member of the technical team.
One of my soapboxes is the belief that IT personnel need to shadow end users for numerous shifts. We need to see how the technology will be used before going live. Staff need to know we understand their concerns have been heard and addressed. If the solution designed by IT is what we think is best yet does not meet the end users’ needs, adoption rates will be low to nonexistent, and workarounds will be created. It sounds like hyperbole, but the distance between two interactions with technology can mean the difference between life and death in our industry.
As clinical staff, you have that knowledge. You have the soft skill of being able to talk to people in many settings. You impart care directives at a patient’s and family’s best or worst. And you know what? You can be a part of the technical team too. No, strike that. You need to be a part of that team. As a woman of color who throughout the years has oftentimes found herself as the only person of both, WE need you on this team. So, don’t let the lack of a STEM education deter you. You’ve been learning all this time and we want you.