Tonya Mays, MSHI, RHIA, CCS

Tonya Mays, MSHI, RHIA, CCS, served ArHIMA as the 2017-2018 President.

How did you hear about the HIM field?
I heard about the HIM field through a friend. I was interested in healthcare and after hearing her share about HIM I decided to pursue HIM.

Where did you go to school?
I am an ATU alumnus for both my undergraduate and graduate studies.

Did you have an educator(s) that assisted you, went above and beyond for you, made you want to become a volunteer for ArHIMA, or helped shape you into the professional you are today?
Chris Merle encouraged me to volunteer for a board position back in 2014, I believe. She was my coding instructor when I was a student at ATU and has always been a favorite of mine.

How long have you worked in this industry?
I have worked in the industry for 24 years with 13 years in the acute care setting and 11 in higher education.

Which has been more valuable in your career, your education or your experience?
My undergraduate studies laid the foundation for me to pursue job opportunities that were of interest and gain the necessary experience in the field. I believe it is a combination of the two that sets us up for success. With the transition to higher education, I was thankful for my years of experience that I could bring to the classroom and give the student real world perspectives.

What was your first job?
My first job was exactly what I did not want to do – Coding!  But after getting actual medical records in hand and navigating through some charts, I grew to love it. I like the investigative component and not ever knowing what the next case will bring. We’ve all read/coded some crazy things at some point in our career.

What are a couple of pieces of advice you would give to someone who is just starting their career?
I would advise a new graduate to find that seasoned person in the workplace and learn all that they can from them. There is much knowledge to be gained from those folks who have worked in a place for years. Also, be willing to share the knowledge you possess too. Learning from each other creates a strong team and helps the department/organization move forward efficiently.

What kind of advice do you give students today who are going through life and not seeing the possibilities?
After sharing the possibilities with students, I advise them to “see” the profession in action and make plans for them to observe at a local facility. The great thing about our profession is that many are willing to give back to students. I can make a few calls and schedule a student to job shadow which helps them make informed decisions about their future when they may not be certain about what their future entails. Every time I’ve done this, the student gets inspired by what they see, and it helps them move forward in confidence about the possibilities.

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 would advise for them to:

  • Take chances and apply for positions that they may not be fully qualified for.
  • Collaborate with other professionals in the facility and get outside of your departmental walls.
  • Further your education and pursue credentials in your area of expertise.
  • If you’re in a leadership role, be a leader. Be accountable.
  • Practice strong work ethics and follow ethical principles because people are observing how you handle things or the lack thereof.
  • Network with HIM professionals to get your name out there and stay abreast of opportunities for advancement in the field.

What is your favorite part of your job?
I love working with students. It is a wonderful thing to see them succeed in the classroom and/or in the field, especially when they may not have seen it in themselves or thought it was possible.

How do you manage your time?
A to-do list. This is a must have for me and it keeps me on track. May even have 1 or 2 going with one being higher priority than the other. Makes sense… right!?

What do you do at work on a daily basis?
I check my email and prioritize for the day/week. Depending on the day of the week, I may start with teaching a few classes or grading. After classes, I again check email and respond accordingly. Other things include meeting attendance, meeting with students to talk about grades, assignments, advising, frustrations, life, etc. I have an open-door policy with students meaning my door is always open for whatever they need. Their success both inside and outside of the classroom is important and my time is given to whatever may arise.

Who inspires you?
The good Lord above inspires me most. I must give credit where it is due.

What made you decide to run for President of ArHIMA?
Peer pressure… ha! I remember sitting in a board meeting in Ft. Smith and there was a discussion about President-elect. I was the secretary at that time and just kept looking down while taking notes. Chris Merle looked at me and said, “What about you, Mays?” First thought, “Uhm… no!” I did have a good reason. I was in the masters program so extra time was limited; however, I did say I’d consider it after I graduated. The next year I graduated, and the opportunity presented itself again, so I agreed to have my name on the ballot because I no longer had a good reason for not doing it. After agreeing to have my name on the ballot, I never regretted the decision and I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone to volunteer. It was a great experience and brought me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.

What did you learn from being President?
From being President, I learned that ArHIMA and AHIMA are very active associations. I have been a member of both associations since my undergraduate studies but never knew much about either association outside of the annual state convention. This opportunity brought great networking opportunities and helped me realize that a lot goes on behind the scenes with ArHIMA. I have really enjoyed working with colleagues from around the state and seeing their professional experience go to work. I have continued to volunteer since my tenure as President ended in 2020. After learning what all ArHIMA does, I want to volunteer and stay connected with what is going on. Currently, I am an active member of the Nominating Committee so if you’d like to talk about volunteering for a committee or get on the ballot for a board position, let’s talk!

What would you say to someone who is thinking about placing their name on the ballot for the President-Elect position?
I’d say, “say YES to the opportunity.” The time involved is very doable and not as daunting as I initially thought it might be. We had a strong board (Marilynn Frazier, Tracie Vaughn, etc.) of seasoned professionals that helped guide the way. I loved the opportunity to travel and represent ArHIMA and AHIMA at the state and national level. In my travels, I attended the Advocacy Summit in DC, AHIMA Conference in Los Angeles, lobbied on Capitol Hill, to name a few things. Of course, one cannot forget about the minor fender bender Sara Daniel and I encountered in a cab as Nor’easter Toby was moving into the DC area. Many great experiences, fond memories and laughs to cherish. I do highly recommend finding a place to volunteer with ArHIMA.

Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for asking me to share some career insights. I hope they are helpful.  Also, volunteer for ArHIMA. It is always a fun group to work with and very rewarding when you get to be a part of a well-planned event coming together.