A Health Information Management Graduate Shares Her Experiences Working at a First Nations Health Center

A graduate of Saskatchewan Polytechnic Health Information Management (HIM), Ilona Monkman is one of the first HIM professionals in Canada to work in a First Nations health centre.

“I did my internship at Sturgeon Lake Health Center, and I was hired before I graduated,” Monkman says. To my knowledge, there are not many First Nations that have centers like the Sturgeon Lake Health Center with health information services. This First Nation has made incredible additions to its health services over the past few years.

In the 1990s, Sturgeon Lake First Nation governance transferred control of first-level services, including health care, from what was then the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. This allowed the First Nation to develop its own holistic model of health care combining Western and traditional Cree practices.

“It’s an exciting time to work at the center and use my training to benefit the community,” Monkman said in an interview with the Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA).. “The United Nations shares that indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to retain their health practices. Autonomy is an important aspect of thiss. Maintaining health records and data is essential to reconciliation and Indigenous rights.

HIM professionals connect the worlds of health and data to accurately tell the health story of their patients. Although many people don’t think about health information when they visit a clinic or hospital, this data is playing an increasingly important role in Canada’s healthcare system. Sask Polytech’s two-year HIM degree program prepares students with the skills and knowledge to be at the forefront of critical health information management.

HIM professionals work in a variety of settings. They lead health care teams and work as practitioners, coordinators or analysts within health authorities and cancer and governmental agencies. Monkman is the Health Information Management Practitioner for Sturgeon Lake Health Centre. She shares, “My training and experience with technology and software has been critical to my success. I am grateful that Sask Polytech’s HIM program gave me an understanding of how different health professions and disciplines interact with each other. I was much more prepared than expected for the work environment.

“Applied hands-on learning is the cornerstone of HIM training at Sask Polytech,” says Ida Sadowski, a HIM instructor at Sask Polytech. “We work with industry partners to set up internships and projects that allow students to gain real-world experiences and make important industry connections. Many of these relationships lead to employment, Ilona being a great example. We are very proud of the work she does. »

Sadowski adds that throughout the HIM program, there is content on multiculturalism and indigenization to help prepare students for their careers. “Our students participate in the Kairos Blanket exercise, learn about issues that Indigenous peoples may face in the health care system, and learn about the importance of the teepee in Indigenous culture,” she says. “Students are encouraged to embrace and share their culture, through conversations about food, traditions, humor or other unique aspects.”

Another important learning opportunity is Sask Polytech’s Interprofessional Education Day, which allows HIM, Health Sciences and Nursing students to collaborate in a patient storytelling activity aimed at developing interprofessional skills. “It is important for students to understand the diverse workplace they will enter, not only with the many roles in healthcare, but with the cultural diversity of each person in each role. As a member of the health care team, it is essential that students learn to support each member of the team, regardless of their cultural background,” says Sadowski.

“At Sturgeon Lake Health Centre, we have implemented a community electronic medical record (cEMR) system developed by Mustimuhw Information Solutions, a Cowichan-owned company based in British Columbia. It is exciting to work with a First Nations vendor to capture data from our clients, programs and vendors. Sturgeon Lake Health Center employs more than 30 paraprofessionals, all of whom need to track data and report to governing and funding bodies. Few other EMR systems can do this, but Mustimuhw’s cEMR is designed specifically to address the unique ways of working of First Nations and the communities they serve.

Monkman shares that many people may not be familiar with health information management and its importance, but the leadership team and colleagues at Sturgeon Lake Health Center appreciate his expertise and knowledge. We recently had a staff retreat and had to choose one word to describe each of our colleagues. The word I received was “lifeline”. I think that would describe a lot of HIM professionals. I am grateful for my work and my career. Everyone at Sturgeon Lake Health Center is so welcoming. It is a very inclusive space.

Learn more about Sask Polytech’s HIM degree program.

This article is based in part on an interview between Ida Sadowski, HIM Instructor at Sask Polytech, and Ilona Monkman, Health Information Management Practitioner at the Sturgeon Lake Health Center in Sturgeon Lake First Nation, for the Association Canadian Health Information Management.

Published in October 2022.

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