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What do you get when health care and IT converge? Endless possibilities, according to Helen Figge, who is working to help individuals seize these new career opportunities.
With her broad background in the red-hot fields of health care and technology, as well as her master’s and doctoral degrees, and certifications as a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Lean Six Sigma Sensei, Helen Figge, MBA/HCM ’06, probably could have her pick of careers at any Fortune 500 company. Today, she’s using her wealth of education and expertise to help others build their future in the very fields where she got her own start.
Figge is senior director of professional development in the career services arm of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a cause based, nonprofit organization whose mission states it works to provide “global leadership for the optimal use of information technology and management systems for the betterment of health care.”
In her role, Figge helps educate health care professionals about the interplay between health care and technology and the potential career paths for those up for the challenge of working in these ever-changing fields. “We give our members the tools and resources they need to better understand the landscape [of the industry], how they could fit in and what skills they might need,” explains Figge. “It’s all about empowering the person to feel comfortable in that environment.”
Figge’s experience has positioned her well to guide others in professions that marry health care and IT. She began her career as a pharmacist in Boston, going to college and doing various clinical training, research and teaching before moving home to New York to continue her career efforts in academics, clinical practice and clinical practice management. Eventually, her career led her to roles in industrial sales and health care practice workflow processes and optimization, including positions with two different Fortune 500 companies.
It was during a role with an electronic health records company that she discovered her passion for IT and the role it can play in health care. “The technology being introduced today is very important. It’s helping to streamline processes and eliminate duplication [of medical testing],” she says. “If technology is used correctly, it supports the ability to deliver quality health care.”
Because she wears both health care and IT hats, Figge is poised to help others see the powerful potential when the two work hand in hand. “I think I am very unique in the sense that I can understand both sides of [what needs to be done] because I’ve lived it, walked it, worked it. I can honestly say I’ve been there, done that,” she says. “I have a passion for getting people motivated and excited to say, ‘This really works.’”
Years ago, if you had told Figge she would one day have a bachelor’s degree, an MBA and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree under her belt, she probably wouldn’t have believed you. “I was dyslexic and I flunked kindergarten,” she admits. But despite her early academic struggles, Figge wasn’t one to give up. “I’m a first-generation college graduate and came from very humble means,” she says. Figge was working as a vice president for a Fortune 500 health care company when she decided to pursue her MBA at University of Phoenix. Even though she already had a successful career, she saw a need to enhance her skills and expertise.
“Getting my degree at University of Phoenix was very important because as I worked in various aspects of health care, I saw health care evolve,” she says. “I was on the front lines. I [had] taught at pharmacy and medical schools and saw how the landscape was changing. It became more and more apparent that you needed to have some kind of business sense to get to the end game: quality health care.”
Today, she’s finding great satisfaction in using her hands-on experience and business savvy to help others jumpstart their careers in health care and IT. She’s been in her current role at HIMSS for two years, and along with her three direct reports, she’s built a new business unit from the ground up. “HIMSS needed somebody with a diverse background to create a career service center that would empower the members to accomplish career goals being experienced in the health care environment today,” she explains of her role there.
Figge believes her education has armed her with the knowledge she needs to make lasting change, both for the individuals she mentors and, hopefully, for the industry at large. “My current role here is giving back and helping others achieve and aspire to what they think they can become,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.”
She urges those she works with to embrace new opportunities in the health care industry as technologies continue to evolve. “Be a change agent,” insists Figge. “And if you don’t want to be one, then step out of the way and let someone else take a stab at it, because health care is evolving, just as medicine is forever changing.”
For Figge, her love of education equates to a love of innovation and adaptation to make the future better than what it is today. “You can’t be stagnant in a world that needs change,” she affirms. “We have to be open and say, ‘Where are we going, what do we need to do and how can I make a difference?’”