As healthcare continues to transform through technological innovation, health informatics and analytics applications are imperative in developing data-driven solutions. The field of pharmacy is one where the “future is so bright” for the potential of analytics, says Cristina Alvarez-Correa, PharmD, MSHI, that she is driven to ask “How can we use technology and data processes to improve it?”
Practicing as a pharmacist full time since 2007, Cristina Alvarez-Correa has seen both the potential and limitations of her field. In November 2019, she transitioned into a new role as a central fill pharmacist. The move from the retail pharmacy environment to a central fill pharmacy is one “which uses a lot more technology and automation,” she explains. “I know that this degree helped to set me apart from other candidates.”
That degree is the Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) with a concentration in Healthcare Analytics from USF Health’s Morsani College of Medicine, which Alvarez-Correa saw as an investment in both herself and in the future of her industry.
KEEN INTEREST AND PERCEPTION
With a desire to keep growing in her career, Alvarez-Correa made the decision to “widen my skill set and learn something new.”
“My decision to pursue USF Health’s MSHI was its offering of a concentration in Healthcare Analytics, including a SAS approved certificate in Healthcare Analytics, and that it is a HIMSS approved program,” she says. “It was one of the only programs that offered informatics with a concentration in analytics.”
Alvarez-Correa’s “keen interest in health IT” coupled with her “own perception of how big data is starting to drive and take hold” is providing the next path in her career.
“What I see from the outside looking in—seeing how IT, big data, cloud computing, cloud storage are driving innovations—I wanted to broaden my knowledge and obtain credentials that would help me in that world” she says.
A STEPPINGSTONE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Alvarez-Correa sees her efforts to gain new knowledge, skills and certifications as a “steppingstone to move in the right direction,” toward her interest in data analytics, data management and data architecture, areas different from her clinical background and experience.
An added differentiator for her education is how the USF Health programs integrate and prepare participants for industry recognized certifications and credentials.
“I also had the opportunity to take SAS programming courses outside USF’s curriculum through a SAS learning subscription as part of my enrollment in the analytics concentration,” she explains. “It was pretty awesome that the program offered this.”
By “learning all these things in parallel,” Alvarez-Correa would seamlessly move between the coursework, continuing to “sit at the computer for an additional one or two hours and just go on with the SAS courses, which wasn’t required in the curriculum, but I just wanted to do it,” she emphasizes. “It was so stimulating learning something new…By the time I got to my Health Data Management class I already had a good foundation in SQL from the SAS courses. So, it’s a pretty remarkable feature of the program.”
Alvarez-Correa started her USF Health journey with the SAS Approved Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Analytics, saying “the certificate was a great motivator. It’s validated by SAS and it can speak to your skills even before you finish your degree.”
Additionally, the MSHI Healthcare Analytics degree program makes her eligible to sit for industry certifications: AHIMA’s Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA), HIMSS Certified Associate in Health Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS), and the Project Management Institute (PMI) Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)—all of which Alvarez-Correa hopes to earn “within the next year or two.”
OPENING DOORS AND OPPORTUNITIES
To those considering the USF Health programs in health informatics and healthcare analytics, Alvarez-Correa would tell them “it is a great program, and the sooner they start, the better!” Especially for fellow pharmacists.
“It is definitely something that differentiates you as a pharmacist and helps you stand out and offer value,” she explains. “The world is changing with automation, especially in a product centric profession, [so] it’s the other things to know that are going to add value to businesses—how do you excel at automation as a pharmacy…data management and storage, big data to drive better decisions? These are the things that bolster your domain knowledge and help enhance your traditional role…”
As Alvarez-Correa sees it, moving out of that “traditional role” may help pharmacists become more customer facing and people focused: “Traditionally, the pharmacist’s job has been very product centric—producing a prescription from start to finish—but now there are a lot of automation processes that can free a pharmacist from the bench and allow the pharmacist to be more customer facing, working one-on-one with the customers, doing clinical work, providing more clinical services face to face just by virtue of being free of doing things that can be done by technology.”
“A lot of things that are happening in the industry and pushing people to get their skills refreshed, to learn about technology and health IT and how you connect with systems—a lot of people are realizing that we need to learn more about this and how it can improve the pharmacy setting in general.”
Cristina Alvarez-Correa is looking forward to that bright future where “so many things are possible now” and seeing how “this graduate degree will surely open doors and opportunities for many.”
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