Starting college is a huge decision, whether you’re straight out of high school or you’ve been in the working world for a while. The most important question you have about earning your degree is whether or not it’s worth it. You want to know if a degree will help you advance your career or put you on the road to a new one.
If you’re focused on the outcome of your degree – i.e. a satisfying job or a higher salary – you likely already know that the medical field is a growing one. And if you’re thinking of becoming a health information technician (HIT), you should know that the HIT job market is expected to grow by 21 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here’s how an Aurora HIT degree helped two former Rasmussen College students – one landed a HIT job and the other gained five raises at her current job.
Straight to college, but with a twist
Kristen Rieke didn’t have a career in mind when she walked onto Rasmussen College’s Aurora campus in 2010. She was straight out of high school and only knew that she didn’t want to work in retail her entire life. Based on her love of the medical field, she decided to become a HIT professional. Her introverted personality was also a perfect fit for HIT because she’d be able to focus her attention on the world of medical records, but without the patient contact normally associated with the medical field.
Rieke’s path to a degree wasn’t simple though: Two weeks after her acceptance to Rasmussen, she learned she was pregnant. Luckily, her daughter was born during a break between quarters and with determination and careful time management, Rieke attended online classes the following quarter.
Rieke says her instructors were understanding to her needs during that unique time period, and is thankful for their support because she has multiple friends who put their education on hold due to a pregnancy.
“Honestly, I kind of feel like superwoman,” Rieke says. “Knowing that I didn’t have to drop out or take any breaks is very empowering to me.”
As a document management technician, Rieke’s main responsibility is to transfer information from paper medical forms to electronic medical records – a job that has become increasingly more important thanks to a 2009 Congressional mandate. She says her Rasmussen College education has been invaluable for her first HIT job.
“I had a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments because there’s a transition from just learning something from a book to doing it,” Rieke says. “You know more than you think when you enter into a job that you’ve prepared for for two years.”
Sheila DeKing’s story is nearly the opposite of Rieke’s.
DeKing was married for 26 years, and she was never the breadwinner of the family. But after a divorce, the reality of needing to find a career to support herself and her two girls came crashing down.
“Minimum wage is not enough to live on,” DeKing says.
To address her financial shortfall, DeKing went back to work as a dental lab technician, a career she held before marriage and kids. It was a bad time to be working in that field, as soon her company only needed her for two hours a week. It was 2009, and she wasn’t the only one with reduced hours – or no job at all. So she decided to go back to school.
Although both of DeKing’s parents fell ill with ongoing medical conditions while she was in the midst of earning her degree, she pushed on. She found support in her youngest daughter, a pre-med student.
“She has been my rock,” DeKing says. “She offers to study with me and we exchanged papers for proofreading.”
DeKing celebrated every milestone she accomplished – Dean’s list, good grades on research papers and raises at work. Her biggest reward? When she earned her degree she bought a puppy.
“The little rewards along the way helped to keep me focused and strive to do better,” she says. “Every goal in life is accomplished by (taking) baby steps along the way.”
Eager to return to the job market, DeKing applied for jobs while she was still earning her HIT degree. She landed a position at Healthcare Information Services as a coding apprentice, coding medical records. She is now a full-fledged coder after 3½ years of service and five pay raises.
DeKing credits her raises to the degree she earned at Rasmussen College.
“I would go to class and the next day my boss would ask me if I could do a task, and I could honestly say, ‘I just learned that!’” she says. “It was an incredible feeling!”
The bottom line
Yes, earning a college degree is an important decision, and you should be concerned about the outcome. Whether you want to earn your HIT degree and then search for a job, or apply for positions while you’re still in school, Rieke and DeKing are living proof that both strategies can be effective.