PPE Stories

An important part of your health information management education – but which may seem daunting – is the Professional Practice Experience, or PPE. In order to apply knowledge you gained in their programs, students complete clinical experiences to ensure that they have entry-level competencies in a real-world environment. While no two PPEs are the same, there are many universal pieces of advice to help you feel confident and prepared for your PPE, and ways to ensure that your PPE is an important step towards landing your ideal job.

Check out the AHIMA PPE page to watch a video, access an FAQ, and download the Professional Practice Experience Guide to learn more about this important aspect of your HIM education.   

Here are some recent PPE stories; share your PPE experience by sending it to academic.affairs@ahima.org.

Kaitlyn Brown, RHIA

Graduated from University of Kansas Medical Center, 2016

My PPE: Saint Luke's Health System (SLHS) (Kansas City, MO). I was primarily located in the Corporate System Offices building, but also spent time touring the hospital and other HIM/ROI facilities. My preceptor was the Director of the HIM Department.

How I found my PPE site: Our program has established relationships with most health systems and hospitals in our area; students work with their advisor to match them to the projects. I selected Saint Luke's Health System knowing I wanted to work there following graduation.

What I did: Our internship is four weeks long, 40 hours a week, and each day was a little different. Some days were packed with meetings and some days were much slower and focused on project time.

During the first week, my supervisor had set up meetings for me with many department heads, team leads and employees throughout the HIM department. This helped me to learn the lay of the land and to visualize the workflow processes. I spent the remaining weeks on my project and attending meetings with my preceptor. I presented my project to my preceptor, the Vice President of Informatics, and a few other HIM department staff members in my last week.  

What I gained: I got a job offer! My preceptor and I discussed what my future plans were; I told her I wanted a position at SLHS and wanted to stay in HIM. She didn't have a position open at the time, but we stayed in contact until she found something that would fit me. I also loved watched all of HIM at work. I was able to visit with coding staff, billing staff, IT professionals and so many more. This was really helpful in understanding how so many processes are determined by good documentation.

My advice for students: Speak up. Ask good questions. Know why you're there and what you want.

I knew I wanted to work for SLHS, so I set up my internship there. After each meeting I had with someone new, I would ask a question. At the end of each day, I would go home and send LinkedIn connection invites to anyone new I had met that day. By the end of my internship, I felt like I knew the whole office. When I came back to start working in July, almost everyone remembered me for that.

Andi Hila, RHIA

Graduated from The Ohio State University, 2014

My PPE: Healthcare Data Works (acquired by Health Catalyst) (Columbus, OH) 

How I found my PPE site: My school helped in finding sites, and we were encouraged to use the alumni network to find a placement we were interested in.

What I did: My experience was a full-time, nine-to-five position for the eight weeks before graduation. I was doing various aspects of healthcare enterprise data analytics: business intelligence, report writing, account management, marketing, and data analysis. I was both paired with others and allowed to work independently. It was valuable to receive feedback on my project as I worked: as a student and not an employee, I felt able to ask questions and make mistakes so that I could really learn, and not worry about asking for help.

What I gained: This entire experience was invaluable for my resume. Understanding healthcare from a vendor perspective was interesting: how do you ensure HIPAA compliance once you have the data what types of reports are health systems looking for? Being able to do enterprise-wide data analytics was a key factor that allowed me to pursue the positions I have had post-graduation at IBM Watson Health.

My advice for students: Try to leverage all of the resources available to you; you have free reign to ask questions, make mistakes and learn by trial and error. This real-world experience will help you stand out on your resume, so ask the HR department if they have any openings, and seek out alumni from your school to see if they have opportunities for employment once you’ve finished your PPE and graduated. 

Erika Howell, RHIT, CCS

Graduated from Waubonsee Community College, 2016  

Northwestern Medicine Home Health and Hospice (NM) (Carol Stream, IL)

How I found my PPE site: Our program had its students find its own organization to complete our 160 hours. I looked at it like finding a job; at the time I was attending school, as well as working at a convenient care in registration for the same health system. I had already made a contact with a coding manager when I first started at NM, so I reached out to her for the availability of an internship.  I really do believe what helped me land my internship, or at least what made the process go smoothly, was networking ahead of time. 

What I did: My PPE was for six weeks, for at least 20 hours a week; I sat with staff in the medical records department, preparing processes and procedures guides for the department to use for new and temporary hires. I learned the formal language of procedures and processes, and completed guides for four medical records positions.  

What I gained: I learned the soft skills that you can only develop on the job: managing relationships, time management, scheduling, what an office environment is really like. You learn the appropriate times to ask questions and how to use your resources to work independently.

My advice for students: Always look to form relationships with HIM professionals, especially with people who work where you may want to do your PPE, or where you want to work someday. Be open to what you may learn; knowing what an HIM department’s every-day environment is like, prepared me for my first job, which was with Northwestern Medicine.

Charniece Martin, MBA, RHIA

Graduated from Chicago State University in 2013; earned Masters from Capella University in 2016

My PPEs: MetroSouth Medical Center (MSMC) (Blue Island, IL, during junior year) and Advocate Trinity Hospital (Chicago, IL, during senior year). I was hired as an Outpatient Coder at MSMC after graduating and achieving my RHIA credential.

How I found my PPE site: One of my HIM program instructors also acted as the PPE coordinator and assigned us our PPE sites

What I did: Each of my PPEs were about a month long. My first PPE at MSMC was considered a "technical experience," so I spent most of my sitting with the HIM department staff and learning their roles and responsibilities; this included everything from scanning, filing, coding, Release of Information, and the transcription process.

My second PPE at Advocate Trinity was considered a "management experience," so I spent the majority of my time with the HIM director. I attended meetings with her, sat in on demonstrations from vendors, conducted an educational in-service for staff, and took part in an OIG audit.

What I gained: From both experiences, I gained a greater sense of knowledge of how a functioning HIM department operates on a daily basis, and everything that goes into making it run smoothly. I also gained a greater sense of appreciation for the HIM field overall, and the level of skill and attention to detail it takes to ensure quality work.

My advice for students: Take it seriously. Ask a lot of questions (that shows interest). Be a leader and do things before they're asked of you (that shows initiative). Inquire about volunteering once the formal PPE is over (they might hire you upon graduation).

Rebecca Teleszky, RHIA

Graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago, 2015

My PPE: University of California Los Angeles (UCLA Health) HIMS department

How I found my PPE site: I started my RHIA online program in Chicago but moved to Los Angeles to start my modeling career and thus continued my program in LA. A year before my practicum semester, my school provided a list of possible sites. I selected my top three choices for both Chicago and Los Angeles. I ended up staying in LA and was matched with UCLA. I then worked with a practicum advisor through my school, who happened to also be affiliated with the California HIM state association (CHIA).

What I did: During my last semester, I spent about six weeks completing 160 hours in the HIMS department at UCLA. The first day, the director of the department, who was my practicum supervisor, explained to me that I was there to learn and direct my own practicum to fit what would be best for me, and they would be there to give me the tools that I needed to be successful. I had a few projects, including one where I worked on a database that holds information for 300 clinics. My job was to audit the current contacts and update the information for each clinic’s access needs. I was also able to shadow staff in every area of the department. I journaled every day so I would be able to retain all of the knowledge I was acquiring. Also, one day each week was spent shadowing my supervisor, who became my mentor. I learned so much from attending meetings and calls with her, and seeing how the department functions.

What I gained: I gained the confidence I didn’t have while I was taking classes. I wasn’t sure that I would succeed in HIM; I didn’t have previous professional experience, and it wasn’t until I was in an HIM environment that I understood the practical application of what I had learned in classes. My PPE really brought school full-picture, and prepared me for the RHIA exam’s situation-based questions. I now work for UCLA Health and my supervisor continues to be my mentor. You can read more about Rebecca’s mentoring relationship with her PPE supervisor in her essay, “Why I need an HIM Mentor.” 

My advice for students: Your PPE will help bring everything together and prepare you. Have confidence: you’re fully capable of doing what you need to have a great experience. Use this time to your advantage; take notes and ask questions. Don’t be scared or over think it!