Susan Parker, MEd, RHIA, FAHIMA (Retired)
Susan Parker, MEd, RHIA, FAHIMA (Retired), served ArHIMA as the 1984-1985 President.
How did you hear about the HIM field?
As so many of us, I heard about the HIM field from my mother, an office nurse for one of three doctors in our rural community. When they were extremely busy, I’d stop by after school (high school) and do her filing.
Where did you go to school?
I graduated with my Bachelors in Medical Record Administration (HIM) from Illinois State University in 1975. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a room and books scholarship which made that degree feasible. I had earned an associate of science from our local Community College, Southeastern Illinois College. I could literally see our farm from my classroom and honestly thought that was enough education for me. Fortunately, my parents helped me see the need for higher education.
Did you have an educator(s) who assisted you, went above and beyond for you, made you want to become a volunteer for ArHIMA, or helped shaped you into the professional you are today?
I had many HIM professionals who helped me along the way. Educators at ISU during my time as an undergraduate were turning over every semester so I did not really connect well with any of them. However, after a few years as Director of Quality at a Kentucky hospital, I moved to Russellville for the best job I ever had. The prior director, Mrs. Withers had moved away due to illness but had clipped explanatory notes on all the folders as a guide which really helped me. But Donna Didier was my rock. She had been in Tech’s HIM program for some time before me and helped me navigate the university setting with a lot of patience and grace. Later Susan Wallace, Sandy Smith, and Mindy Heaton were mentors, friends and resources I simply could not have done without. ArHIMA leadership was always of interest as I had been active in Kentucky to a lesser degree. But ArHIMA took it to a whole new level. The Board was friendly and encouraging. And the ATU HIM staff was always full of great ideas and enthusiasm that was contagious. Plus ATU students were always ready with ideas and excitement for ArHIMA. When I was elected to a leadership role they were my biggest cheerleaders and helped with frank discussions of needs they noticed.
How long have you worked in this industry?
I worked full time in the HIM industry for 46 years. I also was a medical transcriptionist during college. I retired in January 2021.
Which has been more valuable in your career, your education or your experience?
I would not have had the experiences without my education so that makes it an invaluable foundation. However, my experiences and the people I met along the way are what shaped me and made me love my career so much.
What was your first job?
My first full-time position was at Community Methodist Hospital in Henderson Kentucky. They hired me as Director of Quality Assurance as a brand new graduate who had not even taken the RHIA credentialing exam yet. Their belief in my ability was based on my education as I had no relevant experience. I loved that job and the department grew to include Discharge Planning and Peer Review.
Tell us a little bit about your career?
My career has been somewhat diverse, starting with the Hospital, as QA Director. I also taught Medical Terminology in the evenings at the local business college and soon realized I loved teaching. After a few years, I married and we moved to Russellville for my new job: Director of ATU’s HIM program. This was my dream job and still my very favorite. But after 10 years, my husband’s job relocated us to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1989. At that time our children were young and I wanted a position offering flexibility that the traditional world was simply not offering. So I created one in the recruiting field, Seagate Consulting. Ironically the same physician my mother still worked for was also an entrepreneur and helped me with a solid business plan and a brandable name. I began to find career opportunities for the HIM professionals. I could see there were so many new roles for us in the growing health care field but it was also hard for us to sell ourselves. I became the “go-between” and made it easier to explain a candidate’s strengths and aptitude for a new role. Then they could sell themselves in the interview. I did this for the next 32 years. I also taught seminars, wrote chapters for a foundational HIM textbook, did a lot of public speaking, served two terms on the National Board, American Health Information Association (AHIMA). And was the First AHIMA House of Delegates Speaker of the House. My career honestly exceeded all my expectations. The part I loved the most was definitely the people I met along the way. I never missed a convention, state or national. I loved going to my local meetings and served in every way possible at all levels.
What are a couple of pieces of advice you would give to someone who is just starting their career?
I believe when one is starting out in the field you need to be flexible, go the extra mile when you can. And always be a life-long learner, just because you have graduated does not mean your education ends.
What kind of advice do you give students today who are going through life and not seeing the possibilities?
As a recruiter I often saw people, students as well as seasoned professionals, just going through the motions – not looking at opportunities to excel. I really recommend talking with someone you trust about your own personal skills and aptitudes. And then moving forward with those in mind. Some of us in HIM are “people-oriented” (me) and not at all suited to sitting at a computer all day. I recognized this early on and found roles that suited me. But as a recruiter, I also noted a very high degree of HIM professionals who prefer solitude and have a much more analytical brain. Those roles are on the upswing and so many people need to recognize the opportunities probably sitting right in front of them with a title they may not recognize as within their frame of expertise.
What kind of advice do you give to someone who is in the earlier part of their career about how to reach the top?
I believe we all have the ability to set our goals and attain them. Often people discuss their “dream job” with me and sometimes it involves a change in work/life balance as opposed to climbing the corporate ladder. This goal must be approached with the exact same diligence as prepping for a CEO role. Assess what you want, realistically look at it from the EMPLOYERS view. What can you offer them? What do you bring to the table? Your wants and needs are significant drivers of course, but to reach your goals you must gain the attention and respect of the one who employs you. What can you do to showcase your skills in relation to the position you are aiming for? Don’t expect to be recognized unless you shine a spotlight on yourself.
What is the best career lesson you’ve learned so far?
My best career lesson is flexibility. As I evolved in my skills, I also noticed my goals changing. The HIM profession has so many options and I kept my eyes wide open to those opportunities. And the network of professionals in the state and national HIM association was my lifeline. Like every one of us, I needed to adapt to change: technology, new options for HIM, my own family needs, etc. There was never a time where I thought “This is it, I’m settled for life with what I’m doing right now”.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of working was always the people I met. Whether it was teaching, at a meeting, online recruiting or networking virtually, the HIM professionals and employers were always the very heart of my career.
How do you manage your time?
I have been retired for over a year but I still thrive best with a structured plan. At ATU the structure was built in with class schedules and office hours. As a recruiter, the role often involved working across multiple time zones, nights and weekends. But it was never without solid planning. Schedules were set in advance and work-life balance was maintained. On a daily basis, I approached my home office as I would have a board room. I dressed for the day, started promptly at 8:30 and maintained a 9-5 mindset. When my children were small I hired an in-house babysitter during the summer and as far as anyone was concerned, I was as good as gone all day long.
Is there a quote that motivates you?
My motivational quote is spiritual so I don’t know that it’s necessarily appropriate in a professional article but I tell it to myself on an almost daily basis ” I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13
Who inspires you?
You ask who inspires me – I’m inspired ALWAYS by those around me. I see the HIM professionals creating new pathways, adapting to changes that were unfathomable when I started out. I worry sometimes because the way forward isn’t that yellow brick road that was so clear 20 years ago, but I am inspired by those who are figuring it out and opening up new doors for us. Our professional relationships through career associations like ArHIMA and AHIMA are our lifeline. These are lifelong connections that help inspire and guide us.
What made you decide to run for President of ArHIMA?
When I ran for ArHIMA President I was so excited about the potential for our Association. I’d served on the Board in various roles and committees. I’d met so many strong leaders across the State, so many inspiring ideas were in the discussions. I admit I had a Pollyanna attitude that met with a few bumps along the way. But I learned so much from others, always listening and having a “give and take” attitude. ArHIMA accomplished and is still accomplishing so much. Times change but the mission remains stable.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about placing their name on the ballot for the President-Elect position?
I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering placing their name on the ballot to talk with someone who has served, look at the time and responsibility it will take. Run it by their employer if time is an issue. But by all means, do it if you possibly can. Serving my state and national association has been the highlight of my career. It’s the place you actually have an opportunity to make a broad difference and work with a team to make our future even brighter.