If you’re looking for a hidden jewel in healthcare that most students don’t even think about when trying to decide their career paths, Michelle Martin, associate professor and Professional Practice Coordinator in Louisiana Tech’s Health Informatics and Information Management (HIIM) program, will hand you a shovel.
She’ll even help you dig.
Martin knows from experience that Health Information Management (HIM) is a field that is evolving, versatile, and suited for any personality type.
“So many of our students come from those that think they want to be a clinical healthcare professional,” Michelle said, “but after figuring out that direct hands-on patient care isn’t for them, they begin looking for alternatives, and this is a great alternative so they can still stay in healthcare. Other students who chose HIM come from students who want to be in business but like the healthcare aspect of business.”
Martin has been there, familiar with the confusing feeling.
“I enjoyed taking business classes in high school but also thought healthcare was fascinating,” she said, “but I didn’t think I was cut out for hands-on patient care. Someone mentioned Medical Record Administration to me — that was what it was called back in the ’90s — and after I researched the program I found it was a perfect blend of the two.”
From Homer in Claiborne Parish less than 50 miles from the Ruston campus, Martin knew as a Homer High Pelican she wanted to attend Tech, and now she’d discovered her major. She’s been learning ever since.
“A career in HIM is one that is constantly evolving,” Martin said. “There are so many different areas of healthcare facilities that an HIM professional can be involved in.”
A career might touch on any or all of these areas:
- Directing the reimbursement process for the healthcare facility;
- Understanding of data and how it is collected and/or why it’s collected;
- Understanding precisely how any piece of particular data is meaningful to both the healthcare facility and the consumer;
- How electronic health records work; and,
- How the facility makes sure records are properly stored.
“Graduates can work in the traditional HIM department, compliance, quality, billing, health IT…we’ve had many graduates obtain graduate degrees upon completion of their undergrad work and become hospital administrators, chief operating officers, and other high-management level positions within healthcare facilities,” Martin said. “We’ve even had students use this degree to enter medical school.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “I always tell students that this degree is what you make of it.”
Martin earned her BS in Medical Record Administration in 1994, her MBA in 1998, and a Master of Education in 2005, each from Tech. Most of that time, she was steering toward a career in hospital administration.
But after working in the field at the hospital in her Homer hometown and completing her master’s in business by taking night classes, a former professor at Tech told her of a faculty opening within Tech’s HIM program.
“My husband was an educator and loved his chosen profession,” Martin said, “so I thought I’d apply and see what happens. I applied and was offered the job and have never looked back.”
Today her main responsibilities are to teach within the undergraduate program, where students can earn a Bachelor of Health Informatics and Information Management — and in Tech’s graduate program, for students pursuing a Master of Health Informatics. Both programs are online but the undergrad program is both on campus and online.
“Students come from all over the country, from Washington State to Virginia,” she said.
Martin is also the department’s Professional Practice Coordinator; she places bachelor degree students at various healthcare facilities, where each student completes a professional practice internship prior to graduation.
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a professor in this program is assisting students with their matriculation into becoming successful HIM professionals,” she said. “Observing them going into clinical sites within healthcare organizations and incorporating their classroom knowledge into real-world situations is heartwarming. Many times a student’s first HIM-related job is derived from their positive clinical experience.”
She fulfills the service component of her contact by being on the board of directors of the Louisiana Chapter of HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) as Professional Development Chair. She also oversees the M*A*S*H (Medical Applications of Science for Health) program at the University. An extension of Area Health Education Center (AHEC), M*A*S*H is a summer program held on Tech’s campus that offers high school students interested in health careers an opportunity to learn how the basic sciences taught in high school relate to medical theories, diagnosis, careers and treatments. Students participate in lab exercises and class lectures, gain information about health career options, and earn college credit when they satisfactorily complete the program.
Recently, Martin became a Site Reviewer for the Commission on Accreditation for HIIM (CAHIMM), the accrediting organization for such health information programs; already she’s conducted two site visits that included her review of other programs to make sure they are meeting approved standards. Tech’s curriculum was recently updated to meet new CAHIMM standards.
“Tech’s program has been around since 1972 and is well established,” Martin said. “The program was the first fully online program on the Louisiana Tech campus. With that has come many changes in the way education has been offered and in technologies available to students.
“The student interaction we have with on-campus students is a great asset: low student-to-teacher ratio, study field trips they can be a part of, and things like that,” she said. “But one of the advantages for our online students is the way all courses are recorded, so the online students can view recorded lectures and feel a part of the on-campus classroom. In our program we take great pride in establishing relationships with the students in the classroom and through advising.”
No program gets better standing still, and Tech’s HIM program is moving forward with new technology and software, along with an updated curriculum and updated classroom space.
“We’ve recently been selected as one of the programs at Tech to be a part of ‘Compete Louisiana,’ a University of Louisiana System (ULS) initiative to re-engage adult learners ages 21-50 who have completed some college but never earned a degree,” Martin said. “‘Complete Louisiana’ will provide them with academic, financial, and social support structures designed to help them earn a credential of value.”
If today’s high school seniors want a degree that would be of value, fit any personality type, and remain in demand, HIIM would be worth exploring.
“It’s a great degree for an organized student who likes learning about healthcare laws, rules, and regulations,” Martin said. “But if you’re the quiet and shy type, maybe a job as a medical coder from home would be a great fit for you. If you enjoy computer networking, privacy and security, and cloud computing, maybe a job in Health IT would be a good fit. Or if you are one who likes to stay busy and not do the same thing all day, maybe a Health Information Management Director would be the way to go; when I was an HIM Director, I enjoyed that I was constantly involved with different tasks throughout the day.
“This is a career that is not stagnant,” Martin said. “Every day is a new day with changes within the U.S. healthcare system. It’s a very rewarding career in being part of a patient’s healthcare team.”
She and husband Scott Martin — Class of ’98 and ’05 — live in Minden with son Will, 17 and a high school senior who will attend Tech in the fall of this year, and daughter Ali, 13.