Consultant for Electronic Medical Records with Epic Software
Health Data Specialists, LLC
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to Tulane?
I mostly chose Tulane because my scholarship package was larger than those offered by other colleges to which I had applied.
I knew I wanted somewhere warm (be careful what you wish for). The name recognition was a big factor, too – I wanted to go to a school where future employers would see my resume and go,
"Oh, you went to Tulane! That's a great school."
What do you do?
I facilitate the implementation or optimization of the electronic medical records software Epic. In the case of implementation, the current workflows must be documented and fit into the electronic framework, paper forms must be converted into electronic format, processes must be standardized across locations/departments wherever possible, etc. In the case of optimization, I assess the current workflows for areas of improvement, work with end users to reduce choke points and maximize efficiency, etc.
What skills do you use regularly?
- Organization: You may or may not have a permanent desk space at your work site, so being able to quickly find resources (either in your bag or on your computer) is a must. Unless you're lucky enough to have found a local contract, you're likely traveling long distance (out of state) every week, so forgetting documents and equipment at home is unacceptable.
- Self-motivated: Depending on the client, you may be able to work remotely occasionally. Sounds great in practice, but don't sign up for it if you don't have the dedication. It's all too easy to get distracted when surrounded by the comforts of home. Managers will differ as far as how hands-off they are, but you'll likely have to account for every hour of work you do.
- Record keeping: Whether it's your expense receipts, time sheets, status reports, keeping track of your build, etc., you're going to need to keep diligent notes. You definitely want to be reimbursed for your plane tickets, hotel stays, etc., and you always want to know the current state of your build and system.
- Communication: On top of being able to work in the system, you have to be able to explain it to others and discuss any recent changes. Your teammates need to understand how the system works in your environments and the end users need to understand how to use it.
- Epic Systems Certification: This one is trickier because you need to be employed/endorsed by a healthcare system or hospital in order to get certified. Usually, you're specifically hired by the hospital/clinic for an Epic builder or analyst position and then sent to the Epic campus in WI to be trained. There are multiple classes to attend, projects to finish, and tests to take. Once you're certified, you can take it with you anywhere. You'll want to stay at your first assignment for at least a few years and at least one full implementation cycle (if possible) before moving to either another project or consulting.
How did you get to where you are today?
After working at Ochsner Health Systems as an Epic builder/analyst for almost two years, I moved to Austin, TX. The timing was crucial because no consulting firm will risk damaging their relationship with Epic or their prospective clients by hiring you during an active implementation (typically 3 months before and after the software goes live at a location). So you have to be in this window or have already left the position on good terms. I reached out to former coworkers and recruiters who had contacted me on LinkedIn. I had a lot of phone interviews with clients all over the country. Eventually, Health Data Specialists offered to take me on when Asante Health Systems in Oregon offered me a yearlong contract. When my contract is up in September, HDS will work with me to find a new contract.
What are some of the pros of your current position or role?
- Being on the front line of the nationwide move to electronic medical records
- Traveling to new places
- Frequent flier miles, hotel rewards, rental car rewards, etc. – if you pay up-front costs and are reimbursed, you get whatever credit card points or rewards that you rack up
- Long term employment potential (if working through a consulting company) while offering the variety of shorter-term contracts
- Ability to often choose whether you work on a W2 or 1099 basis
Some of the cons?
- Travel – depending on your contract, you may be required to be on-site every week, probably Monday to Thursday, which usually means flying every Sunday and Thursday
- Other downsides of travel: weather/mechanical delays means you may be late getting home (sometimes by days) and you'll still have to fly back to work on Sunday
- Because you're not a full-time employee of the client, you're not first in line when it comes to dedicated office/desk space
- Get used to living out of your suitcase
What did you study at Tulane?
I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in as a freshman, so I focused on getting my degree requirements out of the way and took a Sociology class or two because I liked people. Sociology was great, but not personal enough to what I wanted to do. That eventually led me to Anthropology, which led me to Linguistics, which I discovered later in my sophomore year and immediately declared. I didn't know what I would do with it, but I knew that it interested me and I couldn't get enough.
What insights did you have as a college student?
I knew I was interested in people and how they lived. I didn't realize until Linguistics that what really drove me was language and how people adapted it and adapted to it to fit their lives. And there are so many ways to approach it! Are you interested in recording the sounds used? Phonology/phonetics! Are you interested in the social context of language? Sociolinguistics! Are you looking to parse meaning? Morphology! Want to reconstruct dead proto-languages? Historical linguistics!
What academic advice would you offer incoming students?
Don't stress about finding your major right away and don't stress about finishing your degree requirements immediately. If you have to put a few off, you'll get to choose with a higher priority as an upperclassman later. The most important thing to figure out is area of study/degree. You'll want to know a little earlier if you think you'll want a BS and need extra math or lab science, for example. And if you're torn between majors/programs that are in different schools and require a lot of time and groundwork – pre-med, pre-law, etc. It wasn't until my senior year that I got my lab requirement out of the way--Plant & Human Affairs. It was amazing! Why hadn't I taken it sooner!? (I was lazy and thought a lab class would be torture.) Was it too late to learn more Biology and Chemistry? (Yes, since it was my last semester.) In your freshman year, I would say to try to strike a good balance between fulfilling required classes and exploring your possible majors. I took "History of Writing" to fulfill a general degree requirement and discovered my Linguistics major. You never know!
Do you have any other recommendations?
Student loan debt is really easy to rack up and really hard to pay down – especially right out of college. Go the extra mile for scholarships. Apply for grants. Work while in school to help offset costs. Having a job while in school just leads to new experiences and relationships – and making money while doing it!
If you know you want to pursue an advanced degree and Tulane offers an accelerated program, do it! I got my BA and MA in Linguistics from Tulane in the 4+1 MA Program. If I'd left Tulane, my MA would have taken me two years instead of one. It cut the costs of pursuing a master's and just having a master's, regardless of the program, has opened a lot of doors for me.
What do you wish you had known as a first-semester freshman?
Be involved and talk to people. Whether it's showing up to a free dinner hosted by Newcomb-Tulane College and sitting next to Dr. Maxwell (Chair of the Linguistics Department) or stopping by Housing & Residence Life and asking about summer opportunities (you can work for them and get free summer housing if you don't want to or can't go home!). You won't know that certain people, majors, places, programs, jobs, and more exist unless you talk to people.
LinkedIn: Erin Forte
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 504-865-4000 firstname.lastname@example.org