I’m a 17-year veteran of multiple computer systems, operating system platforms, and applications. I started out my career as a computer operator, skipped programming, and went directly into systems analysis of CAD/CAM software applications. I would say that my specialty is system administration over integrated systems in a network. Thirteen of these 17 years have been in defense department contracting, which is why my resume is full of various computer systems and applications. I want to change my customer base and focus on one discipline, but I’m finding it hard because the commercial world wants a more defined, explicit skill set of capabilities. I want to venture into the health services field. How do I redirect my career?

It would seem that you’ve had a productive learning experience over the last 17 years, and I’m guessing that you like to do a lot of different kinds of computer work. Otherwise, you would have tried to settle down into a specialty long ago. While you are making up your mind about what you want to do with the next segment of your career, keep in mind that whatever you do, you will want built-in variety.

A lot of healthcare IT is related to information management: patient records, drug and treatment information, and so forth. It’s my bet that doctors are going to demand that a lot of this information be available on wireless devices. Case in point: Already, doctors are able to access the Physician’s Desk Reference information about drug dosages and interactions from handheld devices. They are going to want to do the same with all the information they need to do their jobs, and they are going to want to do it within the next few years.

Since you have a background in systems management, you could parlay that experience into a job helping develop systems to meet the needs of busy medical professionals. It would help if you could quickly get up to speed on the technical workings of wireless networking, if you aren’t already acquainted with it.

To find out more about what might be involved in such systems, visit the Web site of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Look around and make sure to read the information about the use of wireless devices in healthcare. The American Health Information Management site also offers information about healthcare IT and is worth a visit.

Network with people in the field
It would not hurt for you to network with IT people already working in the field, which you can do by joining online forums and networking groups in the field. Getting to know people who work in healthcare IT will help you find a job more quickly. With your varied and useful experience, once people get to know you and what you can do, they will be less likely to be worried about the lack of a specific title on your resume.

Consider certifications
A relevant certification or two on your resume wouldn’t hurt, either. You may not have needed to get a Microsoft or Novell certification up until now, but please investigate the range of certifications in these programs. The CompTIA Net+ certification is one you might also consider. You might be able to do all the preparation you need for the tests through books, CDs, or online classes, given the amount of experience you have.

There are some wireless tests and certifications you could explore, as well. Brainbench offers two exams (wireless application protocol and wireless network technology) that you could take to document your wireless knowledge. Planet3 has several wireless technology certifications; check out its information on the Certified Wireless Network Professional site.

Whatever you choose to pursue in healthcare IT, make sure you put some time and attention into learning how to make the networks (and data) secure. I have a hunch that network security is going to be a big deal in healthcare IT, and that anyone with IT security skills is going to be in great demand.