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Rural health system promotes STEM education to fill IT jobs

Michael Maksymow
Healthcare IT News
The CIO at Delaware's Beebe Healthcare has founded a countywide initiative, and he and his team have launched an in-house, for-credit internship program.
By Bill Siwicki
January 31, 2018
12:17 PM

Because of its rural location, Lewes, Delaware-based Beebe Healthcare does not have a large pool of talent from which to draw when it needs employees to fill health IT positions.

That's why the health system is taking steps to promote science, technology, engineering and math education. Interest in STEM fields has fallen off among students, and many organizations across the country have started to take actions to get more students into educational programs to ensure much-needed STEM jobs can be filled.

"STEM is a topic about which I am most passionate and that concerns me greatly about our industry," said Michael Maksymow, CIO at Beebe Healthcare. "When I first came to Delaware to work at Beebe, a few people told me I'm going to have a difficult time building a team. I had to laugh, I've built great teams."

[Also: The go-live buzz: Beebe Healthcare shows how rollouts unite hospital teams]

That's evident by the fact that Beebe Healthcare was a winner of Healthcare IT News' 2017 Best Hospital IT Departments award, and has earned the recognition more than once.

But Maksymow had misunderstood what his colleagues meant about team-building – they meant it could be challenging to find talent in rural southern Delaware.

"Unlike when I was in New Jersey, I didn't have huge metropolitan areas to draw from and there was also a perception that there are no technology jobs in Southern Delaware, so many students felt they had to either go to school elsewhere or when they graduated they would leave to find work elsewhere," he explained. "How do we assure our graduates there are great technical needs in Southern Delaware?"

As Maksymow explored the issue further, he began reading more about a growing concern of talent shortages for STEM jobs. He discerned two issues:

  1. A skills gap, where the U.S. Census shows 9.3 million unemployed, but 4.7 million STEM jobs unfilled, and
  2. Reduction in the STEM pipeline, where today only 15 percent of undergraduates are STEM majors, not enough to meet the nation's demand.

"As I continued to pull apart the onion, I discovered another alarming issue: STEM careers are comprised of 76 percent male and 24 percent female," he said. "And with the 24 percent female, the ethnicity breakdown is 15-16 percent white, 5 percent Asian, 2-3 percent black and 1 percent Latina. No wonder we have a resource issue – how do we get girls and minorities interested in STEM?"

Now the state of Delaware is focused on STEM, but most of the activity is in northern Delaware, away from Beebe Healthcare. Maksymow tired of driving almost two hours one way for an hour meeting to participate in discussions that primarily served Northern Delaware needs. Southern Delaware's primary economic industries are agriculture, tourism and healthcare.

"So I founded and chair another group called Sussex County STEM Alliance," he said. "This group is comprised of educators, industry leaders, legislators and families working together to create awareness and advocate for STEM interest in our county. Our vision is for Sussex County to become among the national leaders in STEM advocacy and awareness."

Maksymow and his IT team have developed a for-credit internship program with their local colleges and are exploring a similar program with a local high school. The idea is to provide new graduates insights into viable technology careers in healthcare.

"Many people don't think of IT when they look at healthcare, so they don't really consider healthcare as a career option," he explained. "But there are tremendous opportunities in healthcare. We're able to provide students hands-on, relevant and valuable work experience, and expose them to the multitude of technical opportunities within healthcare."

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com

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Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 17:00