Rush helps veterans find IT jobs
Jaime Parent, associate chief information officer and vice president of health information technology at Rush University Medical Center, was frustrated by the tough employment challenges facing Chicago-area military veterans. Parent, a retired lieutenant colonel who spent 20 years in the Air Force, felt his 669-bed hospital could fill a need for those struggling to find work.
Rush’s Road Home Program already provided counseling, healthcare and support services for returning veterans and their families. Parent thought occupational training was the logical next step. “For transitioning veterans, finding employment is difficult and confusing,” he said. “Many of them are really having a hard time.”
Parent’s solution? Train veterans and help them land jobs in the fastgrowing field of health IT.
It’s an idea that’s quickly gaining traction among workforce experts, said Patricia Dombrowski, executive director of the Life Science Informatics Center at Bellevue (Wash.) College, which recently secured a $12 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department for health IT workforce development, with a special focus on training veterans.
Health IT can be a great fit for returning veterans, said Dombrowski, who, like Parent, is a member of a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society advisory committee on veteran career services. Many veterans have indemand technical skills honed in the military, and often thrive in the highly structured world of healthcare, she said.
For a relatively small investment, Parent said, Rush could provide muchneeded community support while also demonstrating how such a program could translate to other institutions.
In October 2013, after a year of planning, building relationships with vendors, securing approval from hospital leadership and recruiting veterans from the Road Home Program and other organizations, Parent launched Rush’s EN-Abled Vet Program, a six-month, part-time paid internship that provides veterans with on-the-job and online IT training, certification, resume develop- ment and job placement assistance.
Candidates must have some technology experience, although Parent says he’s flexible on that requirement. He also focuses on veterans who are most in need, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. “We want to find the hardest cases and give them a fighting chance at a job in health IT,” he said.
If a veteran is unable, because of physical or emotional difficulties, to participate in the program, Parent said he’s willing to offer the internship opportunity to the veteran’s spouse or adult child.
Interns earn $12.50 an hour without benefits, which works out to less than $5,000 per veteran—a small investment with a big return, he said.
The program, which graduated its first class in May, certifies participants in deployment of virtual desktop infrastructure, a software service that allows users to access their desktop computer environment in different locations. The veterans also choose a hospital department in which to “shadow” and specialize, such as data security, network services or enduser technology, said Tommy Bankhead, Rush’s team lead for support services, who manages the internship program.
The veterans’ presence in the hospital has had a positive impact on employee culture, too, Bankhead said. “They really help the staff understand what vets go through,” he said.
Of the five veterans in the first class, four have gotten jobs, Parent said. Two were hired by Rush—one on the help desk and one as a personal-computer services technician. One found a job at a medical laboratory firm and another was hired by a financial services company. “One vet got nine phone calls and three interviews,” Parent said. “I told him, ‘I am your best referral. Put my business card right on the table.’”
The program is not intended as a staff-recruiting tool for Rush, Parent said. “We want the vets to be hired in the community and we want to show other hospitals that this is reproducible.”
Parent and his team made some adjustments after the first round, such as condensing the six-month, part-time program to a three-month, full-time curriculum. The four students in the second class began training this month. Parent also said he’s looking to expand the size and scope of the program, and plans to apply for federal grants.
For James Wigfall, a member of the first class, the experience has been transformative. Wigfall, 46, spent 20 years in the Navy caring for patients as a hospital corpsman. But after retiring in 2011, he struggled to find work.
“I just wanted someone to give me an opportunity to get my foot in the door,” said Wigfall, who commutes more than 40 miles from his suburban home to his job at Rush’s information-services help desk. “To finally feel productive and vibrant, it gives me new life.”