UI follows national trend of needing IT workers

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MAY 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa City hospitals are struggling to find skilled IT workers, following a national trend that engineering experts are trying to alleviate.

A survey conducted by Modern Health last week found that 67 percent of IT departments in hospitals are having trouble finding employed workers, and locals agree.

“I absolutely agree with that [statistic from the survey],” said Carmen Lee, vice president of the IT department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “We have many different kinds of IT in the department, but with certain kinds of system administration [engineering graduates specifically], we find it incredibly difficult to find qualified staff.”

Lee said the issue is a two-pronged problem — engineering students are not specializing in the specific areas needed for a hospital, and the UIHC has advanced technology many employees have not previously dealt with.

“[The UIHC] has a complex wireless network environment that deals with both computer and phones,” Lee said. “We have a computer system EPIC that is an electronic medical recorder that many people have not had experience with. We have a combination of that, and people are going into undergraduate [systems management engineering] programs at the university anymore.”

Currently, there are roughly 100 students majoring in industrial engineering at the UI, which systems management engineering is a subset of.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published in 2010, engineering had a 1.5 percent job growth rate. This is below average.

Geb Thomas, an associate professor for the College of Engineering and professor of an information management systems class, said the students seem interested in learning to pair engineering with technology and thought the interest has grown throughout the years.

“I teach about 60 students, and they seemed to be excited to finally learn about how the Internet actually works,” Thomas said. “To learn about how data is shared and how it comes out to a site like Amazon or Netflix.”

The UIHC is currently changing its hiring system, adopting a “do-it-yourself” approach for incoming IT employees.

“We now have a ‘build-it-yourself model,’” Lee said. “People who apply may not have the academic interest or the specific degree, but they have the aptitude apprenticeship mode and we take that intent in the orientation to become more seasoned.”

Thomas said the most common route a major takes after graduation is consulting, and roughly only 10 percent of systems management engineer majors become involved in the health care system.

Computer sciences professor Padmini Srinivasan said although using an technology-based major to work in the healthcare field is not common, she believes the UI prepares its students to work in the field if they would like.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of interest [in working in the healthcare field,” Srinivasan said. “I just don’t think it’s a standard path most people take. I think we offer an excellent program working in the medical field, however and that we provide a good foundation for those students.”

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