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Health Care Industry Changes Prompt New Degree

In an attempt to meet growing market demand, DeVry University’s West Hills campus is rolling out a new associate degree program in health information technology. The program’s introduction is meant to coincide with the digitization of medical records across the country, a task that will create a major demand for qualified and trained health care IT professionals. The program, which will also be offered at DeVry’s Long Beach, Irvine, and Pomona locations, will instruct students in physiology, anatomy and pharmacology courses, as well as computer skills and basic general education courses. With the first batch of graduates slated to complete the one year program at the end of 2005, DeVry is still awaiting its accreditation, which it can only receive after its first students finish their courses. Carolyn Paul, the dean of DeVry’s Health Information Technology Program for Southern California, says that the program’s genesis stemmed simply from the red-hot demand for trained health information technology workers. “There’s expertise that’s needed to form an understanding of the data and how to use the computer to do so,” Paul said. “Because DeVry is a school aimed at equipping people with computer skills, it was a natural to add the health information technology programs so the students can either assist in the electronic conversion or get involved in the maintenance of the data.” Of course, the desire to digitize patient records is converging with another trend that has received a great deal of buzz over the past several years: the aging of the baby boom population. Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation thinks that the graying of the population is one of the several reasons why the health information program will be a success. “The program will likely be very successful. Health care IT workers are dealing with very complicated information and they need to make sure that everything is accurate. The industry needs highly skilled workers,” Kyser said. “And there will continue to be a need for these workers in the future because if you follow demographic trends, the baby boomers are turning 50 and beyond.” DeVry anticipates that its graduates will find jobs with hospitals, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and medical research laboratories. While no firm agreements have been set to guarantee employment upon graduation, DeVry says that its students will make contacts with various companies while still enrolled. “We do a two-step process where we have working relationships with local hospitals where students may do (internships) in the medical setting,” Paul said. “Also at DeVry, we have a very strong career services department that does outreach and sees what employers needs are. They have already begun looking at leads for our upcoming graduates.” With the industry clamoring for highly trained candidates to fill the rapidly swelling health care IT ranks, Brad Osborne, the regional chief information officer for Providence Health Care Systems, Southern California, believes that the program will help to fill this niche. “The job market for health care IT people is pretty hot. I think that the DeVry graduates should have a relatively easy time finding positions. We’re always looking for qualified IT people,” Osborne. “A lot of people want to get into IT. I’ve seen a lot of registered nurses and other clinicians who have moved away from the bedside and into the IT field.” Though eventually most patients’ medical files will eventually become digitized, Osborne doesn’t think that the market will subside anytime soon. “I see the job market expanding rapidly in the next couple of years. The demand won’t go away,” Osborne said. “Technology has a life of its own, one thing will lead to another and we’ll need IT people for something new. It’s an exciting field to get into.” Paul agrees that the demand for the program will be high, as more and people see opportunity in this nascent market. Eventually, she believes that the program will become one of the university’s core offerings. “We really did an analysis of the IT needs in Southern California before the program was even offered. We saw that there was quite a need for people who understand medical records but at the same time have computer expertise,” Paul said. “I see the program becoming a prominent part of DeVry’s offerings. I see us expanding the program in the future. There’s a possibility that we might offer a full scale bachelor’s degree.”

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