Two health information professionals credit CHIMA certification for landing their dream jobs at Nova Scotia Health
Nancy Munroe and Karen Stanley gained Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) certification in 2022, something both women say wouldn’t have been possible without their friendship. Throughout four years of part-time study, while holding down full-time jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and juggling the responsibilities of young families, these co-workers formed a strong bond of support and partnership which played a huge role in achieving their goals.
CHIMA is the national professional association for the health information profession in Canada. It represents more than 5,600 health information members across the country, and most recently now includes Nancy, Karen, and five other Health Information Management (HIM) staff within the IMIT portfolio at Nova Scotia Health.
Though they were both working in the Northern Zone and living in the same town of Onslow just outside Truro,
Both women say taking the CHIMA program opened whole new career pathways. Achieving CHIMA certification, Nancy says, allowed her the opportunity to take an active role in helping the province standardize processes and procedures within Health Information Services (HIS). “Studying coding health information management, data quality, registration, pathophysiology, anatomy, and all of the things that you would see on the backend of health processes and procedures allowed me to move from doing switchboard registration and maintaining health records into a management role.”
Shortly after finishing the program, she competed for and was the successful candidate for the role of assistant manager of Health Records in Northern Zone. She works out of Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro looking after records for the nine facilities in the zone. Nancy says she always loved records, “I like learning things and seeing how it all relates to each other. How registration affects records, how records affect forms, and how the standardization of forms brings it all together. I like things going to the right spot, things being organized and in the proper location, and things done properly with no errors. I just love it.”
Karen has held a variety of roles within Nova Scotia Health over the past 16 years. In order to enroll in the CHIMA program she needed to first upgrade with a biology course, so the entire effort took five years to complete. At the time, her children were very young at just one, five, and six years old. Karen says the hardest part was maintaining balance. “I had to find the proper balance between studying and family to ensure all my assignments were completed on time and I was prepared for the exams. It involved a lot of planning ahead and studying during my lunch hour and breaks at work.“
Crediting Nancy as her biggest support, Karen says she simply couldn’t have done it without her. “I would have quit in year one. I was already struggling with the upgrading, and she always kept me on track, gave me confidence to keep going because I may have given up before actually taking the main course. If it wasn't for Nancy, I wouldn’t have gotten that biology course. And then once we started, it was a lot. I mean mentally, it was so much and without her support there's no way I would have completed it.”
Karen did complete the course gaining CHIMA certification in August of 2022 and by February of 2023 she had landed her dream job of becoming a coding classification specialist. “Right now, I code day surgery charts so when a person comes in, I read and decipher all the codes attached to that visit.” This skill set has room for movement as well. Karen says eventually she’d like to code obstetrics and newborn charts. A big driver for Karen in taking the course was to find a job where she could work from home. “My mom ran a post office out of our house when I was a kid, so as a busy mom myself having a home office with flex hours works well for raising my family.”
Nancy, whose kids were four and nine years old at the time she started the course, says the self-directed nature of the CHIMA program is tough. Putting in 15-20 hours a week during her lunch hours, weeknights, and on weekends over the four years, she agrees with Karen that balance was really important. “I ate while studying whether it was the library, the car, my desk, whatever space I could use that was quiet enough. It was a lot, especially with the young children to try to have a work life and school balance and not let anything get neglected because if something failed, then I had to let something else fail while I got caught up with that thing.”
But, she says Karen was always there when the going got tough, adding that the relationship was a huge part of her success “We were really each other's cheerleaders when one of us was struggling. We were there to support each other because we were going through the same things, you know, both parents of young children, and both with full-time careers. When I really was down and didn't know if I could go anymore, she encouraged and pushed and got me through it, and I’d do the same for her.”
While it was a demanding challenge for both women to achieve, they both agree it was well worth the career advancement that followed.
A total of seven IMIT staff in Health Information Services at Nova Scotia Health have received CHIMA certification in the past two years. In addition to Nancy and Karen, Tara Deruelle, a coding and classification specialist and Hunter Haas, who is assistant manager for Health Records in Western Zone received CHIMA certification in 2022. Marci Strong, assistant manager for Admitting, Registration and Switchboard in Western Zone, as well as Miriam Lagunas-Carbajal and Irene Vassallo who are coding and classification specialists, received their certification in 2023.
CHIMA advocates for the health information profession, monitors industry trends, and provides continuing education. The theme of this year’s Health Information Professionals Week (Oct. 16-20) is Knowledge made Visible, something Nancy, Karen, and all the other CHIMA graduates are modelling daily.