Online Only: Health information technology jobs

Silvia Gilman and Silvia Gilman

How about this for a college experience: Take classes leading to a high paying job while spending no time in a classroom.

This is what students in the Health Information Technology and Cancer Information Management programs do every day.

All classes for these health programs are completely online.

The health technology programs train students for jobs in the increasingly computerized world of health-related information.

Health information technologists are in high demand these days.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, by 2010 there could be a 46 percent shortage of qualified Health Information Management professionals.

Student Suzanne Avery said that she chose this program because it’s one of the best.

“I work full-time and I can check my class after work or really anytime I have a computer near by,” Avery said in an e-mail.

Avery had to change jobs after an injury forced her to end her nursing career. She works as a medical coder at the Grass Valley hospital. At her job, she has to know all the universal codes for medical procedures.

“The instructors are great, they are very knowledgeable and they care about the students…the caring doesn’t stop once you leave the class,” Avery added.

Sue Willner, health information technology instructor and the department chair of both programs has more than 22 years of experience in health information management.

She said she often gets up at 4 a.m. and answers students’ e-mails.

“We respond in hours and sometimes even in minutes to the students,” said Willner.

“My husband and I are from Carpenteria and we both are online teachers, we can work our schedules around so that we have time to spend on the beach during the day.”

She added that instructors enjoy the flexibility of the online classes as much as the students.

“Teachers are begging me to teach,” Willner said.

One teachers from east Los Angeles chose to be a health information technology instructor so she could spend the day with her 10-year-old twins.

Online classes may be flexible, but that doesn’t mean they are easy.

“A lot of people think it is easier but if you are not disciplined you can miss the first class even without knowing it,” said Marilynn Spaventa, dean of the Educational Programs.

Spaventa wants to submit the program for the 2006 technology focus award in September.

“You need to have access to a computer, need to realize that you have to work independently,” Spaventa said.

Student Tim Swaney agrees.

“You have to be a self-starter. No one is there taking attendance and asking you for your homework,” he said in an e-mail. Swaney is interested in research and quality assurance.

In reply to what skills a health technology student must have, Swaney wrote “time management, superior organizational skills and determination.”

“It takes a certain kind of student for online learning,” said Jennifer Mueller, Student Support Specialist.

Suzanne Avery said that even with the challenges, she recommended this program to her friend.

“The only obstacles would be if you don’t understand the Internet or computers, or you don’t do well without having an instructor being ‘in your face’ weekly and/or biweekly,” Avery wrote.

Former student Dona Abrams, who works in the Cancer Information Management field, said that the every bit of information that she was taught was useful in her job.

“In California, cancer is a reportable disease,” said Abrams, who explains that doctors are required to send out information on their cancer patients to her department.

She added that the data of cancer patients she collects for Regional Cancer Registry is also used to find out how well treatments work.

Abrams said with this profession she can work in any field that has a registry.

She added that during her education she especially liked the fact that all the instructors are professionals who work in the field.

Spaventa said that the online college removes barriers and people with disabilities have here more opportunities.

“We are invisible online,” she said. Instructors often don’t know anything about their students.

“My students don’t know that I am a 61 year old Jewish woman from New York,” said Willner.

She added that the invisibility goes both ways.

“Sometimes I think they are 65 and then I find out they are 18.”