What is your full name and title?
What year did you graduate from PT school, and where did you go?
2015 from University of Colorado Denver
What did you do when you first got out of school?
After taking a month to travel, I accepted a job with the University of Colorado Hospital. I had completed a four-month clinical rotation at this location prior to graduation.
In what setting did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
I worked in outpatient, and saw a very diverse patient population (primarily seeing neuro patients). I would start off with an individual with multiple sclerosis, then proceed to someone with chronic back pain, then Parkinson’s disease, and then a post-op TKA patient, or even someone with a vestibular impairment.
What did you do next in your career?
About one year into my career, I felt like I was starting to burn out. I was constantly tired and emotionally drained, and I started developing less than optimal coping mechanisms, such as binge watching Netflix instead of working out.
I looked up articles about burning out, and decided on two action plans to help remedy the situation: teaching and learning.
- First, I took a student on her final rotation; her energy revitalized me.
- Following her rotation, I enrolled in the level 1 Herman and Wallace pelvic floor course to work with a new patient population.
When did you know you wanted to go non-clinical?
I kept on telling myself that things would get better, but episodically I would return to feeling burned out.
So, I dove into projects around our clinic—particularly identifying sources of inefficiency. These inefficiencies generally involved communication between the front desk and therapists, management and organization of clinic resources, and (most frequently) improving documentation on Epic, our electronic medical record (EMR).
I found that on days that I spent time doing these projects, I was more motivated and energized than when I was doing patient care.
Finally, after three years of working outpatient, I realized that I did not want to feel like this for the rest of my career. I craved challenge, greater job flexibility, and potential for job growth.
What was the turning point for you?
I found that I was extremely interested in PI and that many of its philosophies were embodied in many of the projects I had taken on.
Despite introducing me to the world of PI, the most important piece of Lauren’s mentorship was giving me the well-needed push to start applying to non-clinical jobs.
I suffered from the misconception that I was not qualified for anything else other than physical therapy; Lauren gave me the courage to simply go for it.
Did you get any special certifications or have any training along the way to help you achieve this role?
Initially I looked into MBA programs because frankly, I did not think that I would be successful in finding a non-clinical position without one.
However, I decided to postpone pursuing additional education. I thought it was somewhat absurd that despite having a doctorate, being a physical therapist meant that I was unqualified to work in anything other than PT. I wanted to try to find jobs before diving into a whole new degree.
I did, however, enroll in an online Lean Six Sigma Healthcare Greenbelt Training per recommendations of Lauren. Taking this course reaffirmed that I was on the right track, and was ready for a change.
Do you have any books, podcasts, or anything else you’d recommend?
I highly recommend the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott
How did you become interested in clinical informatics?
In combination of working full time and taking the Lean Six Sigma course, I started updating my resume and looking for jobs.
I decided that I wanted to stay in healthcare, and thus started looking on individual hospital job searches with the keywords ‘Process Improvement’ and ‘Quality Improvement’.
It was there that I saw a job opening for a “Clinical Informatics Specialist” position. I had never heard of clinical informatics, but decided to look further into the job description.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that it was a position that collaborated with all areas of the medical field, but ultimately with the end goal of optimizing use of the EMR to improve patient care. I knew that it would be an instant fit with my background, but also something that would challenge and push me.
Did you have to do anything special to your resume/cover letter to land your clinical informatics specialist role?
I tailored my non-clinical resume to demonstrate the following:
- Knowledge and proficiency of the EMR
- Proactiveness and initiative to manage projects
- Communication and problem solving skills
- Demonstration of experience with process improvement, specifically implementations of Lean (efficiency) within the clinical workspace
I also formally communicated my motivation for wanting to transition into a non-clinical role.
How did you land this current role?
I landed this job by taking initiative within my own workplace and working above and beyond my job description as a physical therapist.
What is a day or week in the life like for you?
What we do in clinical informatics is dynamic and versatile. One week, our team is assisting end users with transitioning from a different EMR to Epic.
The next week, I may be working one-on-one with providers to personalize their EMRs by updating their order preference lists and developing note templates to improve documentation efficiency.
Lately, our team has become more involved with work-flow mapping and establishing how our EMR can optimally integrate with best clinical practice. I consider this to be my worlds of the medical record, clinical practice, and process improvement—all coming together as one.
Do you feel like your background as a PT has given you a specific set of skills for the role?
Because of my background, I tend to always have an ongoing project with Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). Right now, I am working with their teams to create a new workflow to improve documentation efficiency in outpatient physical therapy.
What have been the challenges and rewards of this move?
It is humbling going from an environment where you are the person that people come to for help, to the person who needs to ask for help. There is a large learning curve in becoming an established clinical informaticist, and I am incredibly grateful to have a team that continues to support me through this transition.
Clinical informatics is represented in an acute/inpatient setting, and I come from a predominantly outpatient background. I have had to quickly learn about acute care policies, procedures, and daily operations.
I am continuously involved in new projects. There is a sense of accomplishment of being able to complete and achieve specific goals and results.
Also, I mentioned that I work closely with our PM&R departments. I get to help these teams streamline their workflow on the EMR to improve their efficiency and decrease their EMR burden.
Documentation and EMR burden is highly linked to burnout. I see it as a way to give back to my profession and still be intimately involved with the therapies.
I am in charge of my own management of time and resources. For someone who is highly motivated and likes challenges, this freedom is invigorating.
Do you still treat patients, or are you fully immersed in the informatics world?
I am still licensed as a physical therapist, and complete continuing education to stay up-to-date on current evidence—but I am not seeing patients at this time. Now that I have settled more into my new position, I have considered pursuing a PRN telehealth physical therapy position.
How are the hours compared to patient care?
Some weeks are longer and others are shorter, pending the demand and what projects are rolling out. We do have flexibility in our schedule to accommodate the demand, but ultimately we work hard and have a high level of respect for our team and for what we do—this drives our work ethic and integrity.
What type of career growth can a clinical informatics specialist expect?
Many clinical informaticists transition into clinical analyst, education and learning, or data analytics based positions, or management/leadership. There is so much to learn in this field; I expect that it could also allow for transition to many other health and technology-based positions.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into the same non clinical field?
Ask yourself and your team—where are your pain points, and identify areas that have room for improvement in your documentation workflow.
At larger organizations, consider reaching out to the clinical informatics department and consider being your team or department’s representative or liaison.
Generally, show initiative in your own work, and go above and beyond your daily job requirements.
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
I have so much advice!
- If you are feeling burned out, talk to someone about it. You are not alone in these feelings.
- If you are considering leaving clinical practice, I would highly advocate reaching out to others who have also done so; consider mentorship.
Believe in yourself. Being a physical therapist encompasses so much more than the knowledge behind the work that we do. In fact, I would argue that our communication skills, listening skills, marketing skills, etc. make us MORE effective than our clinical or manual skills.
- These are the same skills that are transferable to almost any other job.
- Utilize your current job as a platform to expand on other interests. Make it more than just your clinical practice. This can also help to curb the burnout by creating enthusiasm and purpose in your day-to-day routine.
Understand that you are not throwing away your education when you transition to a non-clinical role. You are just applying it in a different and novel way.
Lastly, physical therapy jobs continue to be in high demand. If you find that non-clinical life is not for you, there is always opportunity to return to the physical therapy profession.
Thanks for your insight, Stephanie!