Faculty Spotlight: Nan Solomons, Ph.D., Practicum Coordinator – Health Info

Nan Solomons, Ph.D., Practicum CoordinatorDr. Nan Solomons is the Practicum Coordinator for the Master of Science in Health Informatics program at UNE Online. We spoke with her this week to discuss the field of health informatics, and how she supports students through their Practicum process.

How did you get interested in the field of Health Informatics?

I got interested in the field of Health Informatics when the internet bubble burst in 2002 and my career in software support and implementation imploded. I was out of a job and looking to retrain into a new career.

I spent a year trying to decide what I wanted to be in this new phase of my life because I realized that the software world I had known was not going to exist in the future. The EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) were just coming to the fore and I thought that my software experience would be a value to them. In fact, it wasn’t! I found that I needed some healthcare experience in my background in order to move into the EMR field. I decided to go to graduate school for a Master’s in Health Policy.

What is it that you do at UNE?

I am the Practicum Coordinator for the Health Informatics program. My job is to help students find their own Practicum site. This often entails helping students discern their interest area within the field of health informatics and exploring potential Practicum opportunities among organizations within the student’s community.

Can you tell me a little about the Health Informatics Practicum process?

Looking for a Practicum is a lot like looking for a job. You have to be able to articulate your interests, expertise, and your value-add to an organization, which can be daunting. Most students have a general idea of what they would like to do for their Practicum experience, but they often lack the specifics to link interests to a project.

I have developed a non-credit course to help students through the process. The course, which we require students to take before the Practicum, begins by having students define their interest area. We then move on to developing an elevator pitch aimed at the hosting organization, and then the students work to complete the paperwork required to register for the Practicum class, HIN 745.

At what point in the process do you find that your students are looking to you for the most assistance?

There are two areas where I have found students need the most assistance. The first area is discovering where their interest in health informatics lies. Often it is a matter of looking at past work to discover a common thread.

The second area of need is prospecting for a Practicum site. Securing a site requires persistence. Students have to be prepared to talk about their area of interest and their skills, suggest some project ideas, and explain how a practicum would benefit the organization.

In your teaching, how do you foster a sense of community among your online students?

I teach HIN 745 – Master’s Project in Health Informatics Practicum and HIN 740 – Emerging Opportunities in Health Informatics, which is essentially a review of the current literature in the student’s area of interest.

So, this is an interesting question to me, both because I earned my Ph.D. through a semi-online program, and because my professional research interest is in the role of relationship to change practice. I encourage students to ask each other questions, and to look to each other for help.

In my courses, like most other courses at UNE Online, there is a Blackboard discussion board where students are required to make a weekly, substantive post and two additional post responses to their classmates. In the course, we also have a discussion board dedicated to peer-to-peer help.

How long is the Practicum process?

The Practicum class (HIN 745) and the literature review class (HIN 714) are taken together and are taught over the course of 16 weeks. One week it’s one class, and the next week it’s the other class, and so on, in an alternating schedule. Both courses are eight-week courses, but they are taken concurrently and over the course of 16 weeks.

What do you feel sets the UNE Online Health Informatics program apart?

The fact that this program is not specifically aligned with a medical school or a computer science program means that students can delve into their own personal interests, and learn about Health Informatics through that lens. For example, if a student is interested in data security, they can apply the concept data security within all of their assignments for each course. That level of personalization and flexibility sets us apart for sure.

What do you like most about UNE Online students?

The piece that I like about UNE Online students is that they come from a whole range of backgrounds. They’re all so interesting in their approach to the Practicum and what they want to do – I find myself learning just much from my students as they’re learning from me!

If you are interested in pursuing a career in Health Informatics, or if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (855) 751-4445 or via email at informatics@une.edu.

Or, fill out an online application today at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page – we look forward to hearing from you!

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