Chris Merle, MS, RHIA, CCS, CDIP, CCDS, CRC, served ArHIMA as the 2003-2004 President.

How did you hear about the HIM field?
I had taken some HIM classes while working on my degree in medical assisting. Then, a few years later I was working in a clinic and a friend of mine was majoring in HIM; she recommended that I come talk to them about completing a BS in HIM. It sounded perfect for me, and the rest is history!

Where did you go to school?

I attended Arkansas Tech University for an AS in medical assisting (1986), a BS in HIM (1993), and an MS in IT (2002).

How long have you worked in this industry?
I’ve been working in the medical field since 1986, initially as a medical assistant, which encompassed both administrative and clinical duties, and then later strictly in HIM, which has evolved into documentation integrity as it relates to coded data, as well as general HIM.

Which has been more valuable in your career, your education or your experience?
I’d say that they have been equally important – I couldn’t have had the career that I’ve had without both. Education got my foot in the door, then experience helped guide me to specialize in what best suited me. I’ve learned so much through experience, but it would have been very difficult to get that experience without the educational background.

What was your first job?
My first job in HIM was doing assembly, analysis, and coding of ED records, which obviously wouldn’t require a BS in HIM, but it was a way to get in the department and move on to different positions.

What are a couple of pieces of advice you would give to someone who is just starting their career?
Be willing to do small stuff to get started, but don’t stay there. Work hard and smart, be on time, be willing to learn.

What kind of advice do you give students today who are going through life and not seeing the possibilities?
I’d recommend initially looking at the AHIMA career map to get an idea of the career paths that an HIM degree can support. Then, I’d recommend visiting with an HIM recruiter – they have insights into what is available in the industry and help you find that position that will mesh well with your likes, dislikes, and abilities. You may find that you need further professional development to be prepared for the perfect career path for you.

What is the best career lesson you’ve learned so far?
Be adaptable to change and embrace the new. Health Information Management is continually changing. New research in medicine results in understanding diseases better, having new treatments, and retiring other treatments that were once considered the “gold standard.” In addition, technology is constantly changing how our information is stored, managed, and transmitted.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Helping people understand how health information impacts so many aspects of healthcare.

How do you manage your time?
I depend on my Outlook Calendar for reminders and just having events recorded in a place where I can access them any time. I also make old-school lists of things to do on occasion.

What advice do you have for someone new to the industry?
Chances are good that somebody else has already faced whatever you are struggling with at work. Be willing to reach out and ask for help from your peers. You’re not alone.

How do you maintain work-life balance?
Work-life balance is much easier if you don’t view your work as a chore. I check emails periodically on my phone because if there’s something that I can handle easily, I’d rather do that immediately rather than wait until later. The person who needs a response can move forward with what they’re doing without having to wait. There is certainly an argument for not checking your emails or taking calls outside of your regular work hours if it’s going to put undue pressure on you, but that’s just not the case for me. I think I have a very healthy work-life balance.

What made you decide to run for President of ArHIMA?
I don’t really remember, except that after being involved with the association in other positions, I wanted to do more. Service to the profession was strongly encouraged by my employer at that time, Arkansas Tech University, and I worked with two members (Darla Sparacino & Melinda Wilkins) who had both served in the position before, so I had great mentors!

What did you learn from being President?
What I learned was that most people who volunteer are willing to help in any way they can. There are a lot of things that must happen for the association to move forward, and it’s all done with a great team of volunteers. My experience as president led to better connections with my peers in Arkansas, most of whom I wouldn’t have been acquainted with otherwise.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about placing their name on the ballot for the President-Elect position?
I’d say do it, but make sure you have time to do it right. It’s a big commitment because you’re on the ArHIMA board for a total of four years, but it’s absolutely worth the time and effort.