The field of Health Information Technology is booming — but are there enough people to meet the demand?

For skilled professionals working in clinical care, business and management, information technology, and other related fields who are interested in taking their career to the next level or breaking into a new one, Health IT represents an untapped opportunity.

Busy professionals aren’t always in the position to pursue a master’s degree or PhD in informatics, or might not be certain they want to. That’s why the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University created the Certification of Professional Achievement in Health IT as an expert, immersive program that offers students an effective alternate path.

“For me, Columbia’s HIT Certification was the perfect first step into the world of Health IT,” says Paul Terwilliger, an MD who wanted to change career paths. “It helped me determine that HIT was the direction I wanted to go in.” Paul now works as an Epic Clinical Analyst in upstate New York.

Through a blended online and in-person experience, the two-semester part-time program is flexible enough to accommodate the lives of busy working professionals, but rigorous enough to ensure they’ll hit the ground running upon completion. The instruction is interactive, innovative, and conducted by world-class professors and industry experts.

The HIT Certification teaches not only a conceptual framework and foundation, but also practical workforce skills that emphasize hands-on training, team-based problem-solving, and real-world application. “So much of the day-to-day life of working in healthcare and technology is not published in textbooks or in research papers or taught in seminars,” explains alumnus Bishoy Luka, who works as a Pharmacy Director.

“The field of Health IT is continually changing because both healthcare and technology are always in a state of flux,” explains Program Director Virginia Lorenzi. “Understanding how to integrate the old with the new and use interdisciplinary thinking”, she adds, “is the key to keeping apace and advancing the field.”

For Luka, the experience was life-changing. “This program allowed me to reinvent myself as a pharmacist,” he says. “There is no question it helped me become an indispensable part of the healthcare team, giving me a better understanding of how other disciplines interact with each other and how pharmacy can harness available technological resources.”

Gina Maman had no healthcare experience when she joined the program. After a 13-year career hiatus to raise her children, the program enabled her to update her skill-set and its supportive alumni network helped her successfully land in a high-demand job market. Today, she works at the Columbia University Medical Center’s Physicians & Surgeons Office of Development, where her training is a daily asset.

By meeting in-person at monthly intervals, HIT students are able to be more fully engaged than they would in programs that are strictly online or offer few opportunities for face-to-face interaction. At the in-person sessions, students work together in a highly interactive classroom setting, benefiting from meetings with numerous faculty, field experts, and the program’s supportive alumni community.

And because the students only meet monthly, the program attracts students from outside the city and state. Terrie Hamlin, now Vice President of Nursing Informatics for a school-based EHR vendor, traveled to class from New Hampshire. She felt it was worth the trip. “The wealth of knowledge obtained from the Certificate of Professional Achievement in Health Information Technology program at Columbia is truly amazing. It helped me achieve professional goals I didn’t know I had.”

Trainees come from myriad backgrounds, including technical, clinical, business, legal, and sales. Some trainees are already in the field of Health IT and simply seek formal training to enhance their career opportunities. Diana Kohlberg explained her motivations for enrolling: “I took the Columbia University Health IT program to bridge my gap in knowledge of Health IT that was not covered during my MPH program.” Diana now works in Health IT innovation.

According to Virginia Lorenzi, “The program’s diversity is key to its success. We use a training method called Team-Based Learning (TBL). Students work in interdisciplinary teams to complete quizzes, assignments, and large-scale projects. The students learn from each other’s strengths and develop important soft skills such as interdisciplinary communication and teamwork, which we believe are essential for this field. They also develop innovative ideas by blending their perspectives.”

Alumna Audrey Akins is employed as a principal trainer on Epic EMR software for a consulting company. She provided insight on her team-based learning experience: “The group projects were key in gaining clarity from my peers’ perspectives on how they saw HIT. Some were medical clinicians, while others were in advanced data IT roles. The projects enabled us to work cooperatively and lead by leaning on each other’s strengths to succeed.”

For some students, the Certification Program is just the beginning of their educational pursuits in informatics.

Wilson Ramos joined the program with a background in engineering and no healthcare experience. After completing the certification program, he decided he wanted to study the field in greater depth, so he applied and was accepted to the Master of Arts degree program in Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University. After completing his master’s degree, Ramos went on to work for Columbia University’s ​International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program (ICAP), an organization devoted to “delivering transformative solutions to meet the health needs of individuals around the world.” Through his work at ICAP, he traveled to several countries across Africa and used his informatics knowledge and skills to make an international impact.

But for most students, the Certification Program alone is enough to open doors to new opportunities.

Craig Budzynski worked in home healthcare management but wanted a change. He was able to change his career trajectory thanks to the Certification Program. Now he works as a Business Intelligence Architect. “The Columbia HIT program opened my mind and career to the vast arena of technology in healthcare. I would not be where I am right now without the program, and I owe a lot of the happiness in my current career to the program and the passionate instructors.”

Interested in enrolling in the HIT program? Applications are accepted each Spring for the next Fall’s cohort.
Want to learn more? Sign up for the next open house event.

Congratulations Raul Rabadan wins Stand Up to Cancer Award for Accelerated Cancer Research

Congratulations Professor Raul Rabadan who has been awarded a Philip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration award from Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a group established by film and media leaders to fund cancer research projects that have the potential to quickly deliver new therapies to patients. Dr. Rabadan has received the award jointly with collaborator Dan A. Landau, MD, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medicine. Click here for more detail news

Congratulations Jovana Pavisic and mentor Andrea Califano, along with PI Julia Glade-Bender for Hyundai Hope on Wheels Quantum Collaboration Award!

Congratulations to NLM fellow Jovana Pavisic and mentor Andrea Califano, along with PI Julia Glade-Bender for their $2,500,000 first-ever Hyundai Hope on Wheels Quantum Collaboration Award to find new cures for pediatric osteosarcoma. It is a multi-institutional translational study with computational methods to find master regulators and potential therapies and then verify via mouse models.

          Andrea Califano

Congratulations to Patrick Ryan for winning the inaugural Healthcare Innovations Award from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reagan-Udall Foundation.

Congratulations to Patrick Ryan for winning the inaugural Healthcare Innovations Award from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reagan-Udall Foundation. It is for his influence in the development of regulatory policy to improve public health and his contributions to the advancement in the analytic framework for observational research, embodied in OHDSI and OMOP.


Alum Mary Regina Boland Connects the Dots Between Climate Data and Disease

This post is part of the People of DBMI series.

If you’re thinking about having a baby, you might want to try to steer clear of giving birth in the autumn.

At least in New York City, where Mary Regina Boland, PhD, and her Columbia University colleagues studied the ties between birth month and disease, finding that October and November babies are most correlated with increased risk of neurological, reproductive, and respiratory illnesses.

Today an assistant professor of informatics at the University of Pennsylvania, Boland conducted the research as part of her dissertation as a PhD candidate of Columbia’s Department of Biomedical Informatics. She and her team examined more than 1.7 million patient records at Columbia University Medical Center, looking at climate and seasonality as one environmental factor that plays an important role in pregnancy conditions.

The birth-month study is one in a string of research Boland undertook at Columbia looking at how clinical data like dental and medical records are connected. Also as a DBMI student, she found that periodontitis, or gum infection, is linked to, interestingly enough, diabetes, hypertension, and prostate inflammation.

Boland earned her MA from DBMI in 2012, her MPhil in 2016, and her PhD in 2017.

Throughout her career, Boland has been dedicated to assessing, engaging with, and making sense of data. She’s curious about the effects of different types of environmental exposures on not only prenatal and perinatal development, but also other health outcomes.

In July, Boland published a study of climate impact on hospital performance metrics, which found that, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors like income, exposure to colder climates resulted in higher 30-day mortality rates. The research gathered scores from more than 4,500 hospitals in over 2,300 counties across the nation.

The challenge now is to apply the data, going beyond mere collection and understanding to use them for actual treatment. It’s about “closing the loop,” as Boland puts it. “In informatics, you try to build models to understand latent factors,” she says, and design methods for integration.

Research like Boland’s could be key to devising better health, as the field of biomedical informatics works increasingly more on the consumer end to develop health tracking and analysis systems. And such evaluations will be better, more robust, and more holistic, taking into account an individual’s entire environment.

“We’re going to have a better assessment of things that contribute to disease risk,” Boland says. “As we continue to move toward the future, there’s going to be less of an emphasis on genetics being the way to solve everything.”

Congratulations to our four DBMI Alumni who were elected to the 2017 American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI)

We are happy to see that four DBMI alumni were elected to the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI) this year (that is 4 out of 17):

• Michael F. Chiang, MD, MSc, Oregon Health & Science University
• David R. Kaufman, PhD, Arizona State University
• Michael Krauthammer, MD, PhD, Yale University
• Li Zhou, MD, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical School