“We have a funny saying in Health Informatics that there probably isn’t a four-year-old out there that is declaring that they want to advance the field of health informatics,” said Amanda Dorsey, MSHI. “People fall into this discipline backwards.”
The statement rang true for the Tuscaloosa native years ago. At the time, she was working as a receptionist at the UAB Hospital IT department when she was completing her graduate school application for the School of Education’s Fifth Year Teaching Certificate. Her plan was to teach high school English. A co-worker persuaded her that she wouldn’t be happy in that field and why not get a degree in the profession she was already working in, healthcare IT.
“I was apprehensive at first,” said Dorsey. “But the more I learned at work and while I was in the MSHI program, the more intrigued I became. I learned that the field was exploding and it would be a good time for people with good communication skills to break into it.”
Dorsey stayed with the UAB Health System after earning her master’s degree in Health Informatics in 1999. She later became a consultant for Phoenix Health System and a healthcare IT project manager for Children’s Health System. Then she had a huge decision to make.
“I had an offer on the table to go work in Great Britain for the National Programme for IT, an offer from a Canadian EHR company and UAB,” said Dorsey.
The former director of the MSHI program had stepped down and Health Administration Services Department Chair Gerald Glandon, Ph.D., asked Dorsey if she would be interested in being the assistant director.
“He was looking for someone who could bridge the gap between academia and practice to transition the program into a blended delivery format,” said Dorsey. “The choice was pretty easy for me. I have not once regretted coming back to the program. It is exciting, challenging and very fulfilling.”
Dorsey successfully moved the program into the blended delivery format with online classes and two four-day in person classes a year. This format allows students to continue to work full-time. Her work didn’t go unnoticed. She was promoted to director in the fall of 2010.
The UAB School of Health Professions has a proven track record of students being hired before they graduate and Jamie Heidel is no exception. She landed her first job as a full-time physical therapist at Agile Physical Therapy in Birmingham weeks before graduation and in plenty of time to relax during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Heidel has always been active in dance and sports. In 1996, she began volunteering for the Special Olympics in Brevard County, Fla.
“I loved seeing people with special needs and their families having fun and achieving their dreams through physical activity,” said Heidel. “Physical therapists try to help people of all age levels, physical abilities, and walks of life live independent, meaningful lives through physical activity and mobility. “
Heidel became immersed in the physical therapy outreach community as a PT student at UAB including volunteering at the Birmingham Chapter of AMBUCS, a non-profit organization creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities.
“The organization installs ramps, initiates respite care centers and raises money to fund Amtrykes (therapeutic tricycles) for people with special needs,” said Heidel. “The organization relies on physical therapists to connect patients and families to their services.”
It was during her outreach that she became involved with her future employer, Agile, the forerunners of Dance Medicine in Alabama. Working at Agile allows her to use her former dance background with her physical therapy education.
“Some of our treatment modalities include manual therapy, pre- and post-operative therapy protocols, Pilates and functional dance analysis,” said Heidel. “Ultimately, we plan to give you the tools of fitness and wellness that can be practiced throughout your life span utilizing your own body and basic equipment to improve function, strength and flexibility.”
Rosemary Dallum’s Culinary Arts class is so popular at McAdory High School in McCalla, there is a waiting list. She loves to give tours in her newly constructed $1.2 million dollar foods laboratory on campus, and she happens to be the only Registered Dietitian teaching Culinary Arts at the high school level in the state.
“I get to use all my educational knowledge of food, nutrition and food service management while teaching a popular, state of the art subject,” said Dallum. “I love to teach students how to cook properly and to love what they cook.”
She’s also giving back to her alma mater. Dallum earned her Dietetic Internship in 1975 and her master’s in Clinical Nutrition in 1977 from the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences. Now she has Dietetic Interns in her class.
“The interns complete a one-week rotation at the school where they develop a lesson, teach a class, assist with a catering function and do a food demonstration to students,” said Dallum.
She recommends incoming nutrition and dietetic students should learn everything there is to know about food and its impact on the body.
“All new graduates should have a solid background in clinical dietetics,” said Dallum. “Once that is accomplished, I recommend they find an area in our profession that best fits their lifestyle and passion.”
Her passion, of course, has been teaching her students to cook, and she knows she’s made an impact on them over the years.
“Many of my former students are now dietitians, chefs and working in various related food careers,” said Dallum.
As tragic as it was, a car accident in high school determined Allen Keener’s path in life. After being hospitalized for a month with multiple surgeries, Keener had extensive rehabilitation during his recovery. It was during that time, he discovered occupational therapy.
“Occupational Therapy seemed to focus on all the things that I wanted to be able to return to doing in my life,” said Keener. “Regaining my ability to live my life made me want to be able to do the same for others.”
Even though he knew he wanted to be an OT since that accident at 17, getting there was not easy. And some might say he took the unconventional route.
“I took a five year detour as an elementary school teacher,” said Keener. “I feel that has helped me be an even better OT because it allowed me to better learn how to meet the needs of others by starting at their level and looking extensively at obstacles/limitations that have to be addressed in order to achieve optimal success.”
Keener received his Master of Science in Occupational Therapy in 2007 and earned his graduate certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation in 2008. He currently works as an OT at Spain Rehabilitation Center and Alacare Home Health and Hospice. He has served on leadership committees at other jobs and has held a leadership position with the Alabama Occupational Therapy Association since 2008. Keener believes taking on leadership positions are important especially to current students.
“Take a chance and sign up for the leadership position that seems scary, as it will prove to be valuable experience later,” said Keener. “Be open-minded to all the future possibilities and learn as much as you are able. You never know what may change in your life in the next five, ten, or fifteen years, and those experiences may make you more desirable to an employer, give you a unique perspective and contribution to your work, and make you a better and stronger person.”
Keener should know from personal experience how a terrible accident changed the course of his life forever.
Julie Hannan Cogdill knew she wanted to pursue a biology major but didn’t know what to do with her degree. An advisor at the University of North Texas in Denton mentioned Cytotechnology.
“It really sounded perfect for me, and I was excited that I would be able to help diagnose cancer,” said Cogdill. “All the laboratory classes I took in college affirmed that I had made the right decision to become a cytotechnologist.”
The Waxahachie, Texas girl had to step out of her comfort zone to find a Cytotechnology school which meant going out of state. UAB’s reputation in the medical field and the Cytology master’s program sealed the deal.
“My professors sufficiently prepared me for the workforce and the changing atmosphere of Cytoloy,” said Cogdill. “It was classes and curriculum at UAB that enabled me to take a position that was half-cytology, half-molecular and eventually work my way up to being in charge of our molecular department. “
Cogdill is a molecular laboratory general supervisor and CLIA compliance officer at PathAdvantage Associated in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s been a long journey from the first time she began looking for a job in 2007. She quickly learned then that many lab positions are not posted and it’s who you know.
“After I graduated, I called every lab in the area I could find, introduced myself and asked if I could come and look at their lab,” said Cogdill. “Only one lab called to let me visit. That lab also gave me my first job as a Cytotechnologist. Try to make yourself and your unique skills known, either by giving the labs a call or by attending national meetings.”
After landing her first job at Ameripath North Texas, a co-worker gave her a glowing recommendation to PathAdvantage, where his wife worked.
Ross Armstrong is proving you can help out your alma mater even from 2,000 miles away. The 2004 Master of Science in Health Administration alum regularly comes back to UAB from San Diego, Calif. to share with current students his role as a healthcare consultant. He joined the new UAB School of Health Professions Junior Board earlier this year and even flew in to attend the first meeting. Now he is adding another SHP committee to his list.
“I’ve been selected to help with the building campaign on the West Coast for the addition of two floors to the School of Health Professions Building,” said Armstrong. “I’m really excited about what this project is going to do to progress the School and the Department of Health Services Administration.”
Armstrong said one of the draws for his program was the networking opportunities.
“The departments do an excellent job in setting up networking events throughout your time at UAB,” said Armstrong. “Make sure you take advantage of these because developing a professional network will be invaluable during your career.”
Armstrong is a manager in general healthcare at ECG Management Consultants in San Diego. He develops long-term strategic plans to help clients prepare for local and national market changes. Prior to that, he worked as a performance practice manager at Kurt Salmon Associates in Atlanta and as an administrator of director of international marketing at Tucson Heart Hospital in Tucson, Arizona. He’s also co-authored a book, “Strategies for Superior Cardiovascular Service Line Performance.”
Armstrong said a healthcare career has many options.
“Think about your strengths and consider the parts of your education that you most enjoy before pursuing your career path,” said Armstrong. “There are typically a number of options outside of the standard career path and one of them may be more aligned with your capabilities.”
And he has one bit of advice for new students.
“Take a tutorial in Microsoft Office applications especially Excel,” said Armstrong. “It will save you a lot of time if you know its capabilities.”
Terrance Wallace knew during his freshman year in high school that he wanted to be a physical therapist. The Milwaukee, Wis. native researched colleges and then plotted a graph with the highest ranked PT schools along one side and the cost on another.
“I eventually applied to all of my top choices, but when I visited UAB during spring break of my junior year in high school I knew wanted to be a Blazer,” said Wallace. “The people were exceptionally friendly and I absolutely loved the weather.”
And he hasn’t looked back since. In 2005, Wallace received his Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (now Healthcare Management) in the School of Health Professions at UAB. He graduated with a Doctor of Physical Therapy in 2008. Wallace remained in Birmingham and is the lead therapist in the falls prevention and mobility clinic at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. His particular focus is on preventing injuries related to falls and balance disorders.
“I enjoy the interaction with patients,” said Wallace. “Working with the geriatrics, you hear how they were drafted right out of high school and the experience of serving in World War II. At the same time, I feel like I’m having an impact on their lives getting them back to walking safely after a fall or surgery.”
Wallace isn’t done with school yet. He hopes to return to UAB next year to earn his master’s of business administration.
“I really enjoy working in healthcare,” said Wallace. “It’s such a complex and dynamic industry that there’s always something new to learn. I’m intrigued by the business side of healthcare in terms of healthcare strategy and exploring innovative ways to improve the healthcare industry.”
Wallace hopes he would still have the option to work with patients even after moving up in his career. He believes though that he’ll have more of an impact on the healthcare system working for everybody instead of one-on-one.
Mary Harvey Grizzle was like most 18 year-olds entering college. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in at school. She tried architecture and realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do. Since she had an interest in children, she tried her hand at education. That didn’t work either. She thought of nursing but realized she would have to turn away during procedures. It was a high school home economics teacher and sister-in-law who is a registered dietitian that encouraged Grizzle to go into nutrition.
“I liked sciences, biology and anatomy which are things you learn in nutrition,” said Grizzle.
Grizzle earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Auburn in 1985 and then took her dietetic internship in UAB’s Department of Nutrition Sciences. A year later, she took a job as an assistant director of the dietetic department at Medical Center East and quickly realized she didn’t like the administration side.
“I’m an Indian not a chief,” said Grizzle. “I like being in the trenches and being a part of a teaching hospital.”
She finally found her match as a clinical dietitian at South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile. She was able to combine her love for children and nutrition. Grizzle works closely in pediatrics to improve the nutrition of patients with diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
“I feel like I make a difference,” said Grizzle. “We see all the time the changes made to their nutrition plan can have a direct affect on their lung functions improving. That’s pretty powerful when you see that happen.”
She said she wouldn’t trade working for a teaching hospital. About four UAB dietetic interns come to Mobile every year to learn from her and the staff.
“My input makes a difference,” said Grizzle. “And I know they are getting the best training at UAB and here in Mobile.”
Kim Preskitt had been working as a financial manager at Flexdigital, a direct mail marketing company, when the occupational therapist in her kicked in. With 80 employees, she noticed the staff was setting themselves up for injuries from improperly moving boxes, carpal tunnel syndrome from long computer use and standing for extensive periods of time. Plus, ten percent of the staff already has some sort of disability. The 1997 UAB OT graduate told the president he needed to hire her as a full-time OT for his staff, something not usual for a private business.
“I told the owners I could lower their insurance costs, add health fitness wellness program and decrease workman’s compensation claims,” said Preskitt.
Her new title became occupational therapy/safety director/finance manager. And she quickly implemented her ideas. She provided training on heavy equipment and has since seen a decrease in injuries. Preskitt gets the employees motivated by encouraging walks and dancing all while working on the clock.
“The staff really likes it,” said Preskitt. “We’re seeing less stress and more production.”
Preskitt will tell you she’s lucky to have owners who have been advocates for work rehabilitation and disability for years. She’s noticing that other companies are starting to take notice, too.
“Companies are starting to hire OT’s and nurses to motivate staff and keep sick days down,” said Preskitt. “It’s great for our industry that we are moving into the direction of working for private companies.”
And because of that, Preskitt said there will be more opportunities for students graduating from the OT program.
“Keep an open mind because there are many non-traditional opportunities,” said Preskitt. “Mentor students every opportunity that you get and blaze your own trail.”
Derek Moates had an extensive background in business as well as science, but he didn’t have the industry experience on how the two concepts work together to produce usable products and make a successful company. He found his answer when he entered what was then the newly created biotechnology graduate program in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Today he is working at one of the top biotech/communications firms in New York, N.Y. thanks, he said, to the biotechnology program.
“Education, while providing support, combined with real industry opportunities is the key to producing successful students who can hit the ground running without skipping a beat,” said Moates, assistant account executive at Russo Partners, LLC. “Being able to communicate with so many CEO’s in the Alabama biotechnology industry made my transition into the executive world where I deal exclusively with C-level management easier and stress free.”
Moates said he knew he wanted to do public relations for a pharmaceutical company in New York. He said it’s because of this program, he landed his dream job.
“This program has truly changed my entire life and it helped position me to begin an executive level career,” said Moates. “UAB can provide everything it took me years to build through my own determination with this well designed and ever evolving biotechnology master’s program.”
He said students need to take advantage of the networking opportunities while you are in school.
“Attend every activity or function your program has so you can meet everyone to build your network,” said Moates. “This helps with getting your first job when you graduate. But be sure to start applying for jobs early. If you wait till you graduate, then you have waited too late to prepare.”
After working 18 years for Kentucky’s largest post acute health care system, Kerry Gillihan retired from his job as the president and CEO of the Cardinal Hill Healthcare System in January. He may be retired from Cardinal Hill, but after spending 32 years in the field he says he’s not done quite yet.
"I would like to move back to the general acute care side of medicine, and help the country meet the challenges of healthcare reform," said Kerry. "Armed with new knowledge from my doctoral studies, I hope to continue making a difference in healthcare services delivery."
Kerry’s even going back to school. He is currently enrolled in the UAB executive doctoral program in health services administration. He earned his master’s degree from UAB’s health administration.
“UAB has developed an outstanding reputation of health care services administration, and has produced some of the country’s most influential CEOs,” said Kerry. “Their continued commitment to graduate and post graduate education with innovative programs is impressive. For example, the executive doctoral program, and the number of other distance learning initiatives serve as a great indicator of UAB’s creativity and passion for higher and more convenient education.”
While Kerry is just beginning his new chapter in his life, he’ll certainly be remembered for his mark on the health care industry working in the general acute care sector and also the post acute care space. He helped build a new regional medical center in Appalachian Kentucky, along with a RN school, with much needed technology and services. Kerry also took a small entity and developed the largest, most diverse physical medicine and rehabilitation network in Kentucky encompassing five facilities in four locations across the state.
Kerry knows his decisions over the years have an impact on the community and hopes students keep that in mind.
“You are a student today, but later you will be the leadership of the health care profession, and we will all be depending on you to make good decisions.”
Betty Denton has seen a lot of changes in UAB’s department of physical therapy in the last 40 years. When she was going through the program, physical therapy was fairly new with a class size of nine and a bachelor’s degree. Today there are more than 110 students in the doctoral program. At the time she graduated in 1969, the degrees were granted from the University of Alabama since UAB didn’t exist yet; however, her last two years were taught in Birmingham at was then known as the UA Medical Center.
In 1973, Betty received her master’s degree in education from UAB. She became a clinical faculty member in PT and retired as a full-time faculty member in November 2005. Since then she has continued to consult with a federally-funded training grant through the U.S. Department of Education. Working with the UAB faculty in the school of education and department of occupational therapy, they are providing training for students in a variety of disciplines who work with infants and young children with special needs and their family.
Over the years, Betty has seen the industry change from a new concept to a universal discipline. Betty says there are now eight recognized areas of specialty certification within the profession. Thanks to her contributions to the program, Betty received the”Department of PT Distinguished Alumni” award in December. She says she’s proud to be associated with the program and has a word of advice to those soon-to-be graduates.
“The program at UAB has had a long history of highly qualified professionals who are recognized leaders in the field,” said Betty. “You have a responsibility to uphold that quality in all that you do. Be generous in giving of yourselves to your patients, your community, your profession, and to your alma mater. Be a guide and mentor for those who are interested in the field.”