Jaime Parent, the associate CIO and vice president of IT operations at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, has made it his mission to help unemployed veterans land health IT jobs.

“Military veterans already possess valued skills and characteristics: duty, honor, integrity, loyalty, project management, and critical thinking,” says Parent, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. “They often just need some help transitioning to a job or career.”

The program has been in use at Rush for a few years, but now is nearing adoption at several healthcare systems.

Parent points to one of the program's participants as an example. When he served as a Marine, the veteran helped set up data centers in the Middle East. But years after his military service was over, he had still not found an IT job.

When Parent saw the veteran’s resume, he quickly understood the problem. “It was poorly written, and there were all these acronyms even I couldn’t understand,” says Parent, who is well versed in military speak.

This veteran, like many others, had fallen into a common trap: The No. 1 reason companies give for skipping over veteran applicants is difficulty understanding how military skills and experience translate into civilian jobs, as detailed in a 2012 study from the Center for New American Security. Sometimes veterans’ resumes are screened out because they do not include key terms that recruiters are seeking, Parent says.

Interns from the Rush University Medical Center’s EN-Abled Vet program work on its project to upgrade to a virtual desktop infrastructure.
Interns from the Rush University Medical Center’s EN-Abled Vet program work on its project to upgrade to a virtual desktop infrastructure.

Another critical problem: Many unemployed veterans lack on-the-job civilian experience. “Even those veterans using the GI bill to get a two- or four-year degree told me they always get the same answer from recruiters: ‘I’m sorry, but you don’t have any experience.’ ”

To help veterans get around these challenges, Parent launched a unique health IT internship called EN-Abled Vet in 2013. The program is an offshoot of the Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center, which provides specialized care to veterans with combat-related conditions and their families.

During the 13-week internship, participating veterans are on-site at Rush four days a week, working side-by-side with IT staff. The program is also open to family members of veterans. The interns are given a stipend of $12.50 an hour.

By the fourth week, the interns have already worked the IT help desk and assisted with the organization’s virtual desktop infrastructure upgrade, which involves replacing aging PCs with thin clients. “That’s a nice bit to add to their resumes,” Parent says. “They can say they participated in a three-year, $4.8 million technology advancement and cost-savings program.”

In the middle of the internship, the veterans spend a week polishing their resumes and practicing their interviewing skills with assistance from recruiters at local IT staffing agencies. “Who better to know how to get an IT job in Chicago than an IT recruiter in Chicago?” says Parent.

The recruiters provide the services pro bono as a way to help veterans, but they also receive a return because they get finder’s fees for filling clients’ job openings with veterans, Parent says.

During the last six weeks of the program, the interns focus on gaining experience in their chosen IT subspecialty, which might be networks, help desk, web design, security or electronic health records. “They shadow an analyst, an engineer, or a field technician one-on-one in a specialized program that we build just for them,” Parent says.

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“They shadow an analyst, an engineer, or a field technician one-on-one in a specialized program that we build just for them.”

During their off hours, the interns can take advantage of another key benefit of the program: Free access to online training programs from eight major IT companies: Microsoft, Cisco, HP, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, VMware, Citrix and Epic. By completing these courses, the interns can add valuable IT certifications to their resumes.

In recognition of this vendor partnership, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) presented its CHIME Collaboration Award to the EN-Abled Vet program and a number of the partner IT companies in October 2015.

Since EN-Abled Vet launched in 2013, 17 veterans have completed the internship program. Of those, 13 have found jobs.

Thanks to help from one of the vendor partners, Epic, the EN-Abled Vet program is spreading to other health systems. Epic is offering 60 electronic medical record certification opportunities at no charge to veterans, with a maximum of five per Epic customer hospital, explains Parent.

Epic also helped Parent connect with IT leaders at other Epic hospitals interested in adapting the EN-Abled Vet program. Parent is freely sharing all the materials and background information hospitals need. Currently six health systems across the country are in the early stages of developing their own programs, and one in the mid-Atlantic region will likely launch in February.

Parent believes veterans are an untapped but fully capable source of talent to fill the increasing number of health IT jobs. “I tell veterans that this program is kind of like a piano,” he says. “You are going to learn a few chords and a few songs. At end of 13 weeks, you’re not going to be Billy Joel, but you are going to get enough exposure and experience to have an as-good or better chance than someone you are competing against in the job market.”

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