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GirlGeek of the Week
Feb 2003

Angela Lewis

Angela Lewis

Angela's career-changing experience with technology is an inspirational one. As a graduate from North Park University School of Nursing and Harry S. Truman College School of Nursing, Angela began a long career in health care, gaining expertise in various areas of the nursing profession such as oncology, rehabilitation, IV and orthopedic nursing.

She first came across technology when she was a home health case manager, visiting and treating patients right in their homes. The home health agency that she worked for set up a new computerized system, which prompted Angela to bring along a computer laptop on all her calls. With this laptop, she could access patient and prescription information, read up on drug and medical procedures, transcribe doctor's notes, diagnoses and plans of treatment during a patient visit or on the road. This new process peaked Angela's interest in technology. She realized that nursing practices and medical care could greatly benefit from its advances, cutting down on time and the endless paperwork that is strongly attached to the health care profession.

Angela then learned about an emerging field in the health care industry called Health Care Informatics that would give her a chance to combine her interests in nursing and computers, and provide her with new challenges that she was eager to tackle. She began to take database and web design classes and joined the Midwest Alliance for Nursing Informatics (MANI), where she says she was able to find mentorship not from one, but all of its members. Today, years later, she is now the group's President Elect.

In 2000, Angela became a Board-certified Nurse Informaticist. Later, she became the Clinical Applications Specialist for Provena Health Information Systems where she managed technical and clinical support of electronic medical record applications modules. Angela is currently Project Manager of Clinical Information Systems for LaRabida Children's Hospital and Research Center. She is responsible for planning, implementing and maintaining all of their clinical applications.

After years in the nursing field, Angela has maintained an interest in computers and technology. She participates and manages many web sites and online boards devoted to the subject of Nursing Informatics. She is involved in various chapters of women-focused technology groups such as DigitalEve and WebGrrls where she is a volunteer instructor.

Angela is a prime example of the huge impact technology can make to one's career. She continues to encourage and teach other nurses and clinicians about the benefits of information systems in patient care and the medical profession in general. Here Angela shares with us her technology experiences and talks more about the career of Health Informatics.

Tell us more about yourself and your background with technology.

I'd say my first love is nursing science then "technology" and my career allows me to combine the two nicely. I'm what I refer to as "a knowledge junkie" I love to learn. I read for pure pleasure and consider Internet and database searching fun. As a little kid I loved going to school. I chose nursing as a career because (ever since high school) I'd been fascinated with the workings of the human mind and body. I can explain to you what happens physiologically when a baby is born but if you've ever seen a live birth you know its more than the science and the technology - its miraculous! That's the same way I feel about technology.

I'm the perpetual student and a few of my favorite subjects are new thought, nursing informatics, psychology, anatomy, physiology and biology - cried through chemistry and stats though. I think the chemistry teachers passed me so they wouldn't have to hear me whine anymore.

I'm also really anal and will plan the heck out of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

After graduating from nursing school one of my specialties was Intravenous Therapy (IVT). IVT is also known as "High Tech Nursing". Who would have thought that 18 years later I'd really be practicing in the "high tech" industry.

Prior to 1996 the closest I had ever come to a computer was using the ATM. I was working in home health nursing when our agency began the implementation of an electronic documentation system and I became a super-user. The best way I can describe it is - it was soooo much fun and like magic! Manipulating and working with the system to get it to do what you needed it to do, discovering new functionality and figuring out how it worked was awesome. Sort of like magic or sci-fi. I'm also a Trekie.

I liked using the system and it was fun, not "work." When I asked my (then) nursing manager if I could have a full-time job working with the system she said something to the effect of, "You're a good nurse just keep doing what you're doing." This basically meant: "No". I've never liked being told I can't do something so I decided to make a move. I now practice (full-time) in the specialty of Nursing Informatics/Healthcare IS and continue my clinical nursing practice part-time.

When did you first discover your love or obsession with technology and new media? Was it a career-changing experience for you?

That first experience in home health nursing got me started seeing how technology could be utilized to improve patient care and nursing practice. The world of nursing and healthcare is overburdened with manual paper processes and antiquated methods of communication between clinicians/healthcare providers.

It was my first web design class and the creating of my first webpages that got me hooked on new media.

Were you encouraged as a child to learn more about and participate in science, math and more technical-oriented projects?

You know, my parents taught their African-American children that we could do anything or be anything as long as we applied ourselves. In my mother's house you could pretty much get away with anything as long as you did not mess up in school. My mother taught me that an education was something no one could take away from you. We were encouraged to participate in science fairs and such but no more than any other area of study. As far as math - I hate math. Always have. I'm also a really bad speller. That's why I love word processing software and spellcheck!

Did you have a mentor in the field or anyone who inspired you to use technology in your work?

Can I really name names? I have been extremely blessed to have several mentors that are pioneers in the nursing informatics field, along with clinical nursing mentors who have always encouraged and inspired me by their examples.

How much of an impact, do you think, mentoring has on women starting out in technology?

Oh, a GREAT deal. When I was trying to make the transition from clinical nursing-to-nursing informatics and information systems I had a lot of heart and desire but no real experience. All I knew in my heart was: "I want to do this." I had several interviews with informatics nurses who had been practicing in this field (at that time) for more than 10 years. They should not have even given me the time of day, but they took the time to tell me what my skill set lacked and how to get the necessary knowledge. They didn't have to do that but they did. That is mentoring, to nurture someone else's dreams and help that person help themselves.

What do you think we need to do to get more women interested in technology?

Related to the next generation we need to: expose children to science and technology early; tell them that they can do ANYTHING they set their sights on; make learning fun; stop perpetuating the myth that girls are less capable than boys, when it comes to technology and science!

What has been your experience with integrating your technology skills to the medical or health care industry? What obstacles, if any, did you encounter in that experience?

There are a few people that think by utilizing technology in healthcare you somehow diminish its caring nature, but that's not true. Technology is like any other tool. It should be utilized ethically and appropriately to improve patient care and healthcare practice. It will never replace the art of nursing, human kindness or wisdom. Someone once said, "No one likes change but a wet baby." That's also true when applied to changing the manual work processes of healthcare practitioners by implementing information systems technologies. You have not seen resistance until you have watched a grown man (with M.D. behind his name) try to destroy a laptop, mobile metal cart and all!

In your opinion, in what other ways do you think technology would better serve society?

We currently have technologies that can assist in decreasing medical errors, improve patient safety, nursing care and healthcare practice. Unfortunately these technological tools are not being utilized as comprehensively or as effectively as they could be.

What advice can you give to girls or women who are just beginning to learn about technology and new media?

Don't give up. If this is really what "charges" you, if this is really what you want to do, don't give up. Get training, take classes, and learn as much as you can from anyone who is willing to teach you.

What do you do when you aren't working and thinking about the next project?

I'm dreaming about the next adventure in my life!

Any current or future projects ahead?

Several writing projects related to nursing and healthcare informatics; completing my graduate degree; assisting my organization with the implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) the federal mandate to insure the confidentiality and security of patient health information.

Any favorite websites, tech tools or cool devices to recommend?

Favorite websites:

Cool devices:
The new wireless tablets and that PDA with the biometric fingerprint security are all WAY COOL!

Do you consider yourself a "Geek"?

First and forever I will always be a "nurse", then ..Of course I'm a GEEK and proud of it!



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