Get Your Foot in the Door as a Volunteer
I work a lot with coding students and people interested in a career in coding. My advice is always the same: volunteer. I get various responses from the-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding me stare to the-I’ve-tried-everything eye roll, and I can probably count on my fingers the number of times someone has taken my advice. All I can tell you is I’ve seen doors open for people who volunteer and the for those who don’t, well, let’s just say I’m afraid they’re going to develop migraine headaches from all that eye rolling!
It seems to me the, “V” word has developed a certain stigma. What comes to mind when you hear the word? Are you picturing a publicity shot of Brangelina in some distant far off corner of the world? Are you picturing hospital candy stripers or “pink ladies?” Well I’m here to tell you two things: 1) volunteering doesn’t have to conform to the vision in your head and 2) people in the HIM industry who make a difference are volunteers.
Where you begin your volunteering depends on your motivation. Are you looking to network, for experience, or both? If you’re looking for networking opportunities, look no further than your component state association (CSA) for AHIMA. I have yet to see a CSA turn volunteers away. I belong to the Colorado CSA where we have student board liaisons and give students opportunities to help out at conferences in exchange for free admission. The bonus of getting involved in your CSA is you have a chance to hobnob with your state leaders, who are connected to other professionals who may be hiring. I have recommended students to employers after seeing their work ethic and drive when working on a project with them. I will challenge you with this, though – don’t think of volunteering for your CSA as simply a jumping off point, think of it as a continuous growth opportunity. Moving into leadership in your CSA can open career doors several years down the road you never thought possible.
If you’re looking for experience I recommend contacting the volunteer department at a hospital. Very few people offer to volunteer in and HIM department. Although, since I first started giving this tip to some people in Colorado, I think the requests have grown! Offer to volunteer not only in HIM, but other departments that interact with HIM, such as patient registration (admissions) or billing. I know an individual who went through an HIM program and started volunteering in patient registration and was just hired on. Once you get that foot in the door, scope out and introduce yourself to HIM department management. Managers hire people they know and they like insiders – believe it or not, as a volunteer, you are more of an insider than you were before you got there.
Finally, I realize what I’m asking. I’m asking you to give up your free time. I’m asking you to work for free. I understand these are hard times for many people, work is scarce and some are already working two or three jobs to make ends meet. However, I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I still volunteer, even in my busy established career, and I find that the more I put into volunteer work, the more my career flourishes.