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Alexa Richards Bachelor of Science

“The biggest problem we have right now is dealing with the electronic health record,” Richards explained. Hospitals and health systems in America are currently in the process of moving from paper medical records to electronic systems, which will reduce costly repeat procedures, make it easier for physicians to obtain patients’ records from different providers, and help track diseases for the purposes of public health. Along with the digitalization of patient records, health systems are adopting a new system of diagnostic coding. Learning an entirely new system of diagnostic coding is such an intensive process that many coders trained in the old system are retiring, leaving jobs open for new HIM graduates.

Alexa Richards is at a pivotal point in her life. She recently received a full-time job offer, will soon find out the location of her senior internship, and is set to graduate from Temple University in May. Fortunately for her, the field she’s entering is in the midst of a transformation that is just as exciting. Richards is a senior in Temple’s department of Health Information Management. She was drawn to HIM, ranked by U.S. Bureau of Labor as one of the 20 fastest-growing professions, because of its dynamic blend of business, information technology, and healthcare. Traditionally confined to coding and medical records, HIM is gearing up for two dramatic changes, set to take place by the end of 2013.

These innovations are expanding both the role and the responsibility of HIM professionals. Careers outside of the traditional hospital setting include consulting (traveling to implement the new electronic system) and working for system vendors to build software programs. Students like Richards, graduating in the midst of this transitional period, need to understand both the paper and the electronic record systems, and they must be well-versed in the new and old coding languages. Temple’s curriculum is designed to prepare them for both tasks. “Our one professor is certified by AHIMA [American Health Information Management Association],” said Richards. “There’s only a handful that are certified to teach us these new codes.” Temple’s comprehensive and progressive coursework was one of the main reasons that Richards chose to come to the university. “The curriculum seemed on par with what actually happens in a hospital,” she said, drawing on her

experience shadowing and working in a hospital’s medical records department. “I felt like they knew what they were doing.” The constantly-evolving profession requires an expansive variety of training, and Temple’s program of classes includes everything from clinical studies to health informatics, the security concerns associated with the new electronic system of records. Labs teach students how to use many of the computer programs they will be using in the professional world. In addition to their traditional classes, HIM students are required to hold internships during their junior and senior years to gain exposure to different aspects of the field. Since Richards was already working in a traditional hospital setting, she completed her first internship at a pediatric electronic medical record vendor. “It was a wonderful experience, because I got to see a totally different side of HIM that I hadn’t seen before,” Richards said. She plans to go to Baltimore for her senior project-management internship, and she is looking forward to finding out her exact assignment over winter break. Interning is just one part of networking, an essential task that makes HIM unique among the healthcare professions. “There’s a lot of room for professional development,” said Richards, and it seems to be her personal mission to maximize these opportunities for herself and her fellow students. She is on the HIM department’s advisory board, which connects Temple graduates to area professionals. As the president of HIM’s student association, she has restructured the organization to allow more students to get involved. “We’re really trying to connect with the local professional organizations and trying to get our name out there, since a lot of it is the

networking. We’re trying to bring recruiters in to find us.” It was a recruiting session at Temple that gave Richards the connections which would lead to her own offer at GlaxoSmithKline. “Getting a job in October before I graduate, that was great,” she said. “I didn’t think I would have that in this economy, especially such a competitive job.” Richards is also on the National Student Advisory Council for AHIMA, the industry’s professional organization. The goal is to increase Temple students’ involvement by making the organization’s programming more relevant. “Building that bond now is so important for students,” said Richards, since AHIMA certifies HIM practitioners and provides continuing education credits. “A lot of professors are involved with the local professional organizations, and that opens up a lot of opportunities for [students].” These connections have opened even more doors for Richards, who received the 2011 Student Triumph Award for her work on the advisory council and attended AHIMA’s convention in Salt Lake City in October. “I would not have the job that I have now, or the professional recognition that I’ve received through my work on the advisory council, if it weren’t for Temple and for coming to this program,” she said. Richards gives credit to Temple’s faculty and alumni for building an intellectual base and supportive network that help students take their first steps into the professional world, a world that, in the case of HIM, is growing exponentially with few barriers and abundant opportunities. “As soon as you find your niche, you have such a great foundation of knowledge and coursework that you really could go anywhere that you would like.”


Erica Gechter Bachelor of Science Most of us have had the opportunity to see a nurse in action: striding purposefully around a hospital room, dexterously preparing an IV, gently reassuring a patient. Despite our general familiarity with the professionals, few people fully understand the complexity of the profession. According to Erica Gechter, a student about to graduate into the field, being a nurse involves more than one would imagine. “It’s very difficult,” she says, “but it’s by far the most rewarding profession I could see myself doing. You really have to have a passion.” Gechter, a senior Bachelor of Science in Nursing student at Temple University, explains the layers of responsibility required of everyone in her field. First, there is the actual medical work, the complicated procedures that make up a nurse’s daily routine. Then there is the task of patient advocacy, which requires a set of communications skills that are not explicitly medical in nature, but that Temple’s nursing department considers essential for its students. The primary role of any healthcare professional is, of course, to attend to patients’ medical needs. “Temple and Philadelphia hospitals in general have a great reputation for healthcare,” says Gechter. Nursing students at Temple attain this foundation of knowledge through an intensive combination of classwork, lab practice, and clinical experience. Techniques learned in class are reinforced in the university’s practice lab, and students must achieve competency in these procedures before they get a chance to try them in the field. Clinical practice begins during the students’ second year. Each rotation lasts for half of a semester and is integrated with the students’ coursework.

“Typically we have courses that match our clinical,” Gechter explains. “This year, since we’re doing advanced medical surgery, we have a class that goes with that; with psychiatric, we had mental health. All of the classroom theories that you’re learning can be implemented in clinicals.” It would be difficult to overstate the importance of these real-world experiences. “I’m not sure it would be possible to go out into the field without clinical experience. You’re able to apply and solidify what you’ve learned in the classroom and through the theories that are in your book and see them in real life. [And] my clinical teachers have been phenomenal. I’ve learned more in clinical this year than I ever have in my life.” In addition to giving students the opportunity to practice medical procedures, clinicals teach the nurses-to-be about the career options available to them. From the five rotations she has completed, Gechter has discovered that she is most interested in critical care and pediatrics; she is looking forward to revisiting one of those areas this year. “For the last part of the second semester we get to choose our specialty, so I’m pretty excited for that,” she says. Temple also requires BSN students to complete an internship or externship, which Gechter began last summer at Albert Einstein Medical Center. Like clinical rotations, this experience gives students the multiple benefits of practice, exposure, and networking. “I have the opportunity to shadow, see what other nurses are doing,” says Gechter. “It’s a great position to reinforce that nursing is what you really want to do.” While medical expertise is a critical quality in a healthcare professional, it is not the only

important element. Nurses need to be advocates for their patients, which is what drew Gechter to the profession in the first place. “I volunteered at various nursing homes, and I’ve always felt like it’s a fulfilling commitment to be able to help people.” Often required to care for people on an intimate level, nurses must be able to understand their patients and build trust. To help students develop these specialized communication abilities, Temple’s department of nursing offers classes in cultural competency, which Gechter has found extremely valuable. “As you are in the field, you care for the patient in a holistic manner,” she explains. “It’s really about connecting their background with their cultural preferences […] As we experience more, we become more culturally competent to care for the patient. I really feel like this year, since we’ve had that course, I’ve developed that skill more than ever.” Cultural competency is especially crucial for healthcare providers in an urban environment, which is where Gechter sees herself working in the future. “I had a lot of opportunities for inner-city healthcare that I might not end up seeing in the suburbs,” she says, explaining one of the factors that drew her to Temple. “I’m from the suburbs, so I always wanted to go to college in a city […] When I found out I got into Temple’s program, I was thrilled.”

Temple provides other opportunities for nursing students to get involved in the post-graduate professional world. Gechter is involved in SNAP, the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania, which invites nursing students to conferences and seminars. She describes a recent conference in Lancaster as extremely memorable and informative. “For seniors, it was really awesome to go and talk to recruiters,” she says. While at the conference, Gechter also got a chance to meet members of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, an organization that recently granted her a scholarship. In addition to the honor from PSNA, Gechter is a two-time recipient of the J. Russell Fawley Scholarship, a private award that is administered through Temple. “That’s a great opportunity at Temple,” she says: professors and mentors connect students with financial as well as professional opportunities. After graduation, Gechter plans to at least five additional years of experience before returning to college for her master’s degree. “Once you get hired at whichever institution you choose to work at, they typically will help you pay to go back to school for that degree,” she explains. Though she hopes to continue her education, she is confident that, thanks to her undergraduate experience, she is ready for a career as a registered nurse. “Temple has prepared me in a multitude of ways,” she says. “The nursing program is extremely difficult, but at the end of the day, if nursing is truly what you want, it will all be worth it.”


Christina DeFrancisco Doctor of Nursing Practice Candidate In a university with nearly 10,000 graduate students and 27,000 undergrads, there is one department where students stick together, forging lasting bonds with each other and with faculty. Temple University’s nursing program, which offers both a Bachelor and a Master of Science in Nursing as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, is focused intently on the relationship-building aspect of the field. Relating to patients has always been essential for nurses, and their ever-expanding role in healthcare only intensifies the importance of this skill. Temple’s program carries this theme from the first level of undergraduate courses into the final clinical experience. “I got to really connect with all those students,” says Christina DeFrancisco, a nursing student who has risen through the ranks at Temple since arriving with her associate’s degree. She is now enrolled in the DNP program, studying to become a nurse practitioner. DeFrancisco has known since she was young that she wanted to work in healthcare, and she has been working towards the goal since high school. She went to a vocational school for nursing and got her associate’s degree at another college before coming to Temple for her bachelor’s, master’s, and DNP. “I often recommend Temple’s bachelor’s program,” she says. “They’ve gone fully online, so it’s even better for people who have their associate’s already and want their bachelor’s.” Starting with a two-year degree allowed DeFrancisco to work while completing the BSN program, and it was her job that inspired her to continue her education even further. “When I got into the workforce and I actually went to see a skilled nursing facility, I just saw all these disparities, so I knew I wanted to advance my

level of nursing,” she says. “That’s when I decided to go back for Nurse Practitioner, at Temple’s master level. The patient clientele I was seeing weren’t being educated on their diseases, so I knew I wanted to keep going.” Though it would be impossible to overstate the value of medical knowledge in the field of nursing, advocacy and communication are just as important. At Temple, this focus on relationship-building begins long before a nursing student sets foot in a hospital or medical practitioner’s office. The academic program takes place in an environment that encourages interpersonal communication and compassion. Small class sizes, about 10 to 20 students each, promote discussion and foster relationships among students. “When I went for my undergrad at a different school, it was huge lecture halls where I didn’t even know who was sitting next to me,” says DeFrancisco. “In this atmosphere, not only does the teacher know my name, but I know all the students too. We’re all constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Like fellow students, the professors are knowledgeable and willing to help. “There have been a couple that I felt I could always go to them and they’d give me their honest feedback,” says DeFrancisco. “They’ll always make time for you.” She adds that the faculty members’ diversity of experience helps makes them a valuable resource to students. “They come from a bunch of different settings; not just hospitals, but clinics, research backgrounds. I know who to go to if I have a question about statistics, and I know who to go to if I have a question about urban information.” Last year, DeFrancisco had the opportunity to work directly with some of her professors, putting together a poster presentation for the

College of Health Professions and Social Work on the subject of job satisfaction for nurse practitioners in retail settings. “My topic wasn’t something I knew much about, so the whole time I was bouncing ideas off of my teachers. They helped not only to show me how to write the paper, since it was qualitative research and I’m more a numbers kind of person. They worked with me to really develop it, and I think my finished product was a lot better with their advice and their input than I could have done on my own.” From this experience and others, DeFrancisco has found the faculty at CHPSW to be extremely relatable. “It’s more of a working relationship,” she explains. “It’s not teacher/student. We’re all learning and figuring out this class together instead of having that boundary drawn.” These interpersonal skills extend naturally into the workplace, as does the medical knowledge students acquire at Temple. The university is dedicated to clinical training and researchbased practice, which benefits students in a variety of ways. Not only do clinicals give students a chance to practice what they have learned; they expose these future nurses to the diverse career opportunities available to them. “One of the biggest ways [Temple prepares students for their roles as nurses] is through our clinicals,” explains DeFrancisco. “For each of our major classes, we take a clinical, which has to be at least 120 hours […]For my background, I actually dabbled in everything: I did primary care; I did an urban setting; I went into the hospital. I did all these different settings, not only to increase my skills and my knowledge, but I think it helped me to zone in on what I wanted to do.” DeFrancisco advises students interested in nursing to explore the field of healthcare in any way they can. A year of general medical studies helped her focus her interests and make sure that she wanted to be a nurse, though she knows that this option is not for everyone.

“Not everybody wants to take that extra year before they jump into their associate’s, but there are other opportunities out there, like candy striping, going into the hospital, volunteering at places,” she says. “There’s plenty of activities to get a feel for what goes on in different settings and expose yourself before you go into it […]The best way to know if that’s what you want to do when you’re at that age is to get into it somehow, dip your feet in the water.” Of course, experience in the field has a purpose beyond career exploration, especially for nurses with advanced degrees. Nurse practitioners in hospital settings are finding that they have more power than ever before. In many cases, they have the authority that used to be reserved for doctors. Their extensive education prepares them to take on this greater role. “In the nursing home I’m working at now,” says DeFrancisco, “before, the nurses that worked there would call the doctor, tell them the symptoms, and the doctor would tell them over the phone what to do next. Now, as the nurse practitioner profession keeps growing, we have a nurse practitioner on site every day. So instead of saying, ‘Yeah, their eyelid’s kind of red. I’m not sure…’ I can talk to the nurse practitioner, get her in there, and be able to evaluate.” DeFrancisco predicts that this shift, the increasing responsibility given to nurses and nurse practitioners, will both improve the process of providing healthcare and empower patients to gain more control over their own medical situations. The outlook is good for nurses in training. “With the changing of healthcare and the need for primary care and people that are good at educating, people that listen, I think that nurse practitioners will just flourish in any kind of setting.” During this exciting time for nursing professionals, DeFrancisco is glad that she

chose this path. With her dedication and the experience she’s gained, she is ready to take on the responsibilities that will be required of her. She knows, too, that her education has prepared her for the challenge.

“In the master’s and DMP program, the atmosphere Temple has provided and the working relationship I have with other students and my professors… I don’t think anywhere else would be able to give me the opportunities I’ve had within this program.”


Alexandra Brown Bachelor of Science If you had asked her a year ago, Alexandra Brown would have told you that research was not in her career plans. “I don’t want to sit behind a desk, crunching numbers,” she used to think. But when the opportunity came to get involved in a community-based participatory research project, Brown, a senior public health student about to graduate from Temple University, took the plunge. One of her former professors, Dr. Natasha Williams, was working with an organization called uGO Wellness Venture to evaluate the efficacy of an 8-week community exercise program. The group had begun working with neighbors in West Philadelphia in 2010 and was looking for a way to measure its results as it moved on to another part of the city. “Essentially, they took the same protocol, applied it in Southeast Philadelphia, and brought in a research team to see pre- and post-program,” said Brown. Temple’s research team partnered with Jefferson Hospital to obtain participants’ vital statistics before and after the workout regimen. What Brown gained from the experience, however, went far beyond the results of the study. She learned about the intricacies of fieldwork – and all of the challenges that go along with it. “The community was very low-income; a lot of them were immigrants,” she explained. “There was a cultural barrier there, some language, and there weren’t enough community members involved in this project.” But the participants also provided a solution: “We had a few ambassadors who belonged to

the community, who were active in organizations like the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, and who could really go out and relate to people in the community and say, ‘Hey, I’m your neighbor. I’m doing this great exercise program, maybe you want to come do it with me.’ And that was really a way we could draw people into the program.” Public health research, Brown learned, is as much about building relationships and earning people’s trust as it is about gathering information and analyzing data. “You have to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable,” she said. “Some people have never worked out in their lives, and you’re asking them to come and be vulnerable and expose themselves in front of others.” Of course, Brown did end up confronting the more methodological aspects of conducting research, but she found that the terms and procedures made much more sense in context. Concepts that seemed distant and abstract in class, like survey development and participant retention rate, took on a new meaning.

“Those things start to make sense, because they apply to your functional research,” she said. “I realized that there’s more to cultural competency and program development than what a textbook can offer. You really need to get out in the community and build relationships with people, and that is something that a textbook can’t teach you.”

lit reviews. Of course you need to do all of that; that is a foundation. But when you’re conducting research on people and trying to influence change, you have to really build these trusting relationships. Initially, I didn’t think that was a part of research, and now that I’ve learned that, I would love to continue to do more research in the field!”

Classwork is supposed to prepare students for real-world experience, but lessons learned go the other way too: Brown’s experience in the field put her at an advantage in her final year of classes. “Our capstone is program development, marketing, and administration, and I had done all of that before I entered the class, so I really felt that I had a leg up in some areas. I still had to put in just as much work… but I had an understanding of what it’s like to actually be in the field.” And the field, Brown realized, is somewhere she could return.

Through her work with a professor on a community-based project, Brown gained a fuller understanding of what public health research entails. More than that, though, the study related her classwork to her fieldwork in a way that maximized the impact of both.

“I realized that research is so much more than sitting behind a desk crunching numbers, doing

“It was such a great experience, and I really do believe that, in order to learn, you need to be actively engaged. I’m sure there are some students who, like me, need to be hands-on, and I think student-faculty research is a great way to reach those students.”


Allison Harris Doctoral Candidate You might say that Allison Harris is engaged: devoted, involved, passionate. A doctoral student in Temple University’s Physical Therapy program, she is at some times a scholar and at others, a clinician. She is the secretary of her class and a member of its student association, a published writer and a recent scholarship honoree. When she decided to pursue a graduate degree, she knew she wanted a school where she could take an active role in her education. That’s why she chose Temple’s College of Health Professions and Social Work. Temple was not new to Harris, who is currently in her second year of the physical therapy degree program. She graduated from the university with a degree in psychology and a sociology minor. After four years with Philadelphia’s Food Trust, she realized that the element of human connection was missing from her career. While working full-time at a nonprofit consulting firm, she began to take night classes and applied for graduate school. “I really thought I needed to be in more of a healthcare setting, and I wanted that one-onone with people,” Harris said of the thought process that led her to physical therapy. She was drawn to the unique blend of education and advocacy that the profession offered. “I really wanted not only to tell someone what they needed to do, but to actually help them in their process towards healthy living.” She was further reassured by the fact that physical therapists enjoy a high level of career satisfaction and have numerous job opportunities. Her choice of colleges was intuitive in a different way. “Because I went to Temple for my undergrad, I felt like I should go somewhere

else just to get a different experience,” she admits. “But I just kept coming back to the idea of going to Temple.” After her work in the Philadelphia community, Harris knew that Temple had done the best job of preparing her for the real world. During the interview process for the College of Health Professions, Harris noticed something else that set Temple apart. “I could tell that there was a really strong relationship between students and faculty. They definitely serve as mentors, but there was more of a peer or collegial relationship between the students and the professors, a shared appreciation for each other’s knowledge.” This cemented her decision. As a returning student, Harris wanted the freedom to integrate her practical experience into her academics, and Temple’s PT department let her to do just that. “The department seems to have a lot of faith in the student body […]We have a chance to shape our experience here,” she says. She would know. Harris is on the executive board of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Student Association’s Job Fair committee, which recently hosted 24 employers from the fields of physical and occupational therapy at the Health Sciences Campus. She was elected to her class’ Professional Development Committee, a group of faculty and students dedicated to maintaining academic and professional integrity within the school. In November, she received the Matt Williams memorial scholarship from Temple’s Department of Physical Therapy. Over the summer, she co-authored a paper with Professor Stephen Carp that will be published in the American Physical Therapy Association’s magazine, PT in Motion. Harris has also written for the APTA’s student paper and is preparing to submit an article to the Scranton Times Tribune, a publication with which Temple has a relationship.

In addition to Harris’ extracurricular involvement, there are, of course, the classes and the clinicals that are part of the academically intense PT program. Temple has developed a doctorate level program to keep up with the changing face of the field. New direct access legislation would allow patients with Medicare to visit physical therapists without a referral from a primary care physician, which means that PTs will increasingly be required to act as first-line responders. Temple’s curriculum takes this into account and prepares its students to take on the additional roles, not just in the doctor’s office but in the emerging arena of PT research. “Physical therapy as a field is moving more and more towards evidence-based practices,” says Harris. Doctors are interested in the predicted outcomes of specific methods of treatment. There is an increased demand for evidence of effectiveness, and Temple’s curriculum teaches students how to conduct the necessary research, critically evaluate it, and incorporate it into their practices. The structure of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program reflects the complexity of the field. The first year consists entirely of classes based in theory and practice. One of Harris’ most memorable experiences was working in Temple’s gross anatomy lab, and she thinks a lot of her fellow students would agree. “Temple really has a state-of-the-art lab. It was an amazing educational opportunity, and it was

very rewarding,” she said of the class, which gives students the chance to work directly with human physiological systems. Physical therapy students have five clinical internships throughout the three-year program. Their first clinical experience begins at the end of the first year, and the ratio of fieldwork to classwork increases as time goes on. In addition to giving them practical experience, this exposes students to the many diverse opportunities available in the field. Temple has a distinctive advantage in its relationships with various internship sites, where students can explore the many facets of physical therapy. Allison recommends that students considering a career in PT get as much, and as varied, experience as possible. “Physical therapy is such a dynamic field; there are so many different places to work,” she said. “I think that a lot of people come into the program thinking that there’s only one possible thing they’ll be doing and end up in a totally different area of the field.” As for Harris, she has completed her first clinical internship and is looking forward to seeing what else the field has to offer. “We have so many amazing opportunities in any setting you could think of: going into homes, to schools, to hospitals, nursing homes. I want to keep an open mind!”

CHPSW Student Spotlights  
CHPSW Student Spotlights  

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