Kathleen Nguyen started her career in health information by working at Group Health Cooperative (now Kaiser Permanente) where she and the after-hours nurses were the first line of triage for patients in need of medical attention. To get patients to the right doctors, they recorded information through an almost entirely paper-based system. To learn how to improve this system and to adapt her growing expertise to a larger scale, she enrolled in the UW’s Health Informatics and Information Management (HIHIM) bachelor’s program.
Her investment paid off when she was offered a lead job in health information at Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic a year before graduating. She later enrolled in the HIHIM master’s program, which she says, “gave me both the tactical and strategic skills to navigate as a leader in a large healthcare organization and to develop, create and lead electronic health care systems at an enterprise level.”
She credits both Seattle Children’s Hospital and the UW for supporting her as a full-time student and employee. The HIHIM bachelor’s and master’s programs offer evening and online classes, respectively, and, says Nguyen, the faculty “were always accommodating in supporting our school- and work-life balance.”
Because of this, she feels she’s been able to grow with the hospital, which she says, puts its mission first and always encouraged her in pursuing further education. Indeed, she’s been at Seattle Children’s eight years, taking over as director for health information during her final year of the master’s program.
For others in similar situations, Nguyen says, “Knowledge is power. When you commit to being a life-long learner, not only are you benefiting yourself, but also your employer and your community.”
Now she’s working to lift-up others within the field. “I always encourage my teams to pursue higher education. I tell them, whatever it takes, I’ll commit to supporting you however I can. I have always been surrounded by great mentors, both in my personal and professional life, so it’s my way of paying it forward.”
Recently, Nguyen has transitioned to work as the director of clinical communications. Now, her job has come full circle. “Early on, I was looking up pager numbers for providers; now I am trying to figure out, how do we get rid of pagers and consolidate communication tools into the one thing we all carry: a mobile phone?” This brand new team will deliver enterprise-wide tools for effective communication by streamlining features like secure text, Wi-Fi calling or bedside monitor alerts.
Outside of a field that she describes as, “fast-paced and ever-changing,” Nguyen also seeks out challenges in her choice of hobbies. She likes hiking and recently took a trip to the Swiss Alps. She also enjoys cooking – re-creating the Vietnamese food dishes that she grew up with. Through cooking, Nguyen hopes to carry on the Vietnamese tradition with her own family. And she likes gardening, particularly growing orchids because they are “finicky and require such specificity in their daily care.” This, Nguyen says, makes them “a good challenge.”