Countdown to 2nd Annual Pennsylvania HIMSS Health IT Workforce Conference

mark stevens
Mark W. Stevens, Contributing Editor

On April 20, 2016 the Central PA Chapter of HIMSS will host its second Student Workforce Development and Training Conference at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, featuring local and national leaders with discussions on variety of topics related to health IT Workforce Development, including challenges and opportunities for healthcare systems, engagement of veterans in health IT and the development of health IT educational programs. No stranger to PA or HIMSS, Charlene Underwood, a longtime resident of PA, former member of the Delaware Valley chapter Board of HIMSS and co-founder of PA HIMSS Health IT Advocacy Day, will help lead the discussion.

Charlene Underwood is a subject matter expert in health information technology with broad expertise and experience with electronic health records. Her focus is on health policy related to government and industry activities that stimulate the adoption and use of healthcare information technology. She is an Adjunct Professor at Temple University School of Public Health and Penn State Abington Business School of Health Administration.

Underwood worked for Cerner in 2015 as a senior expert. Her role was to interpret and translate government and industry activities into company initiatives that advanced the use of HIT solutions. She participated in numerous national activities where industry stakeholders are setting direction.

Prior to joining Cerner, Underwood ran the Government and Industry Affairs office for Siemens Health Services. She has held leadership roles in influential organizations such as HL7, where she helped define the organization’s EHR functional standards and model, and with the Computerized Patient Record Institute, where she helped found the Nicholas E. Davies Award of Excellence Program. She served as Vice Chair and Chair, HIMSS Board of Directors, and as the first Chair of HIMSS EHR Association. She is a past board member of the HIMSS Delaware Valley Chapter Board. She also served on the National Quality Forum Health Information Technology Expert panel, the HL7 Advisory Committee, and the eHealth Initiatives Policy Council.

Underwood is a member of the Health Information Policy Committee Advanced Health Models and Meaningful Use Workgroup. Underwood holds an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Temple University and an undergraduate degree in math, with minors in computer science and biology from Purdue University.

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Stevens: You worked on the vendor side of public policy and now as an educator. How do you see these different factions working together to address current workforce challenges?

Charlene Underwood, Health IT Executive and Educator

Underwood: Healthcare and health IT has been and continues to be at the crossroads of rapid and and often disruptive change. That is one reason why I found working as a vendor for so many years to be both fun and challenging; there was always opportunity to learn and more importantly to develop solutions that made a difference to our clients and their patients. For the past several years, I have been teaching about healthcare and health IT at Temple and Penn State Abington. Coming from industry to education is one of the ways to address workforce challenges because you are able to bring real-world experience into the classroom. As an educator, you have academic freedom, so you can build a curriculum that is relevant to what students need to know to succeed in industry.

A second way to address workforce challenges is for colleges and universities to support programs that integrate businesses into their curriculum. For instance, Penn State Abington recently held its first “Business Challenge” where teams from local colleges competed for monetary awards based upon their analysis of a real-world case study and their ability to present their findings. The surprise at the end of the competition was not only who won, but also that business leader who ran the company featured in the case study was present at the competition. He shared what really happened with the business. It was an opportunity for students to learn about the complexity of business and for business leaders to share their knowledge and experience.

Stevens: Tell us about your students. What are their backgrounds, interests, and expectations? Knowing them as you do, would you say they hopeful about the future of healthcare and health IT?

Underwood: I teach undergraduates at Penn State. The culture at Penn State/Abington, as one student put it, is “lively”, so students show up and are engaged in classes and do most of the their class work. The students also come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, which is representative of our future workforce. Many are pursuing careers in the healthcare field because of the demand for all types of workers in this field. However, most are relatively unaware of the field because they are young, and still invincible, so don’t have much exposure to the field. This makes teaching them about health and healthcare an experience where I learn too.

Stevens: You recently made the transition from industry to academia. How is it going?

Underwood: As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy learning and challenging work that makes a difference. Teaching students and keeping them engaged is not for the faint of heart and you have lots to learn to teach at a college level.  For me, making a transition to do work I find meaningful and interesting has worked very well. I enjoy my students, like keeping up to date in the healthcare field, and appreciate having more time off so I can travel.

Stevens: At the upcoming CPA HIMSS 2nd Health IT Workforce Development Conference, you will be moderating a panel on “Industry & Education Collaboration”. Can you give us a preview?

Underwood: The panel will feature speakers from health plans (payers), health IT vendors, and professional organizations who will share their accomplishments and plans about how to advance the mutual interests of business and academia. Those in attendance will take away one important message: like the health and health IT industry, academia and industry are also at a crossroads and opportunities abound for innovative ways to form partnerships and create lifelong learning opportunities.

For more information on the conference and to register, please visit


2nd Annual Pennsylvania HIMSS Health IT Workforce Conference, Harrisburg University of Science & Technology, HL7, Penn State, Temple University


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