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Vicki Vallejos, BSN, RN-BC, Manager Clinical Informatics at Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Ind. and Vice President of the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA)

February 2012

Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in nursing and why?

A. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't want to be a nurse! I actually made the decision when I was young. My older sister had been diagnosed with scoliosis and was admitted to Riley's Children Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind. for surgery because she was allergic to the rods inserted in her back. She was bedridden in a ward where children under the age of 12 weren't allowed to visit.

My sister's bed was by a window with a patio view, so one day my dad took me outside and sat me at the patio so she and I could see each other and talk – we missed each other so much! Unfortunately, a nurse came and shut the window and closed the blinds five minutes later. I was so upset that I decided "when I grow up I'm going to be a nurse, and I'll let little children talk to their sisters!" When my sister finally came home, I asked my mother to make me a nurse's cap from a washcloth so I could wear it when I was helping take care of her. From that moment on, I never changed my mind about becoming a nurse.

Q. What inspired you to become an informatics nurse?

A. I basically 'fell' into informatics. When my second child was born, I worked as a home health aide supervisor when the first word processing typewriters were introduced. I taught myself how to use it so I could cut down on time spent every week scheduling the aides. I trained our clerks how to use the word processor to type up patient orders for physician signatures. When computers hit the mainstream, I began to enter all the patient information on the Medicare billing forms.

By 1995, my home health director encouraged us to purchase real home health software so billing and all clinical documentation could be done online. I decided that I should be the project manager for this project given my computer knowledge. I saw it as an exciting challenge. With much help from the vendor, I designed and built the new system, and taught our cross-functional staff how to document in the new system. Little did anyone else realize, but an informatics nurse had been born – I had finally found my niche!

Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?

A. Nursing is such a flexible profession. I have been in three specialty areas, including the acute care setting as well as home health and long term care. I believe the opportunities and rewards are endless as long as you keep your mind open and are willing to take that first step. Knowing you helped save a life or improved the quality of life for a dying patient and their family yield incredible feelings of self worth.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of being an informatics nurse?

A. My passion is patient-centric care and quality patient outcomes in every role. I always knew I had a direct effect on every patient I cared for during a shift. As a manager early in my career, I strived to ensure my teams delivered quality care for each of their patients. Then I felt I had expanded impact on all the patients my team cared for. When I moved from home health into IT at an acute care organization, I realized that by making patient information and resources more accessible to the nursing staff, we were expanding our collaborative impact on the outcome of every patient, even without ever seeing many of them face to face. That is incredible!

Q. What has been one of the greatest moments of your career?

A. Of all the great moments in my career, the first one that comes to mind was while I was still in home health in the 1990s. As part of my staff training on electronic clinical documentation, I started educating nurses on how to use a laptop. This included basic instruction on downloading data via the phone line, how to change batteries and other simple laptop tasks. One nurse was almost in tears before class because she was so scared to use or turn on the laptop for fear she would break it. I devoted extra time coaching and mentoring this nurse during her few days of training. I remained in close contact with the nurse until she improved her comfort level with using the laptop.

A few months after our class, a mutual friend shared that the two of them were chatting one day when my friend noticed the nurse had her laptop with her. When asked about why she had it, the nurse replied, "Oh this laptop is my best friend, I am lost with it! I document better than I ever did and I'm still done with work earlier than before!" I considered her confidence in using a laptop a huge win as an informatics nurse.

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