This week, HIMSS is celebrating National Health IT (NHIT) Week. One of the areas of focus this year under the overarching theme of “Supporting Healthy Communities” is “Accelerating Workforce Development – encouraging women in HIT and STEM careers.”
To that end, Sentry would like to take this opportunity to recognize the many women in our organization, from leadership to IT to customer service. They are an integral part of delivering the cutting-edge technology and world-class expertise that help our hospital and health system customers make strategic business decisions and serve patients around the country.
To conclude our women in HIT blog series, we talked with Melinda Sansone, Director of Data Governance, to hear more about her career in IT and the work she does at Sentry.
Sentry: Tell us about your career. How did you end up in HIT?
Melinda: I held a number of entry-level IT positions to put myself through grad school. In the late ‘90s, my first IT-related job was for a healthcare consulting firm in New York, where I really got the opportunity to learn the healthcare data vocabulary. I did healthcare analytics work for some time which gradually led me to learning about databases and getting more certifications in IT, and I also learned more about the technology as well as the data. For more than half of the past 20 years, I’ve been working specifically in healthcare IT.
To me, data is everything. Data makes sense of the world. I love trying to understand how to use specific pieces of data to make information that’s usable to people, to improve healthcare, and to make people’s lives better.
I was always good with languages. Learning software languages was interesting to me. I think a lot of people who work in IT, a lot of developers, enjoy learning languages. Just like learning French or German, you learn Ruby or Pearl or Java.
Sentry: Can you share your experience as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field?
Melinda: Very often in my career, I’ve been the only woman in a meeting. Especially up until about three or four years ago, though I think that’s changing a bit now.
Women in IT have often been relegated to the “soft” jobs, like business analyst or project manager. You don’t see women as much in the more technical or hardware-related jobs. But I started out as a database administrator, which meant that I needed to understand the data as well as the hardware the data was running on. These kinds of jobs are something women have only gradually moved into.
One memory I have of lack of diversity in HIT is from around 2003. My manager and I were attending a conference that was hosted by one of the largest software companies at the time. When we walked in, I immediately noticed how few people of color were there. But it took me a bit longer to look around and think, “Hey, where are all the women?” I’d gotten so used to working around predominantly men that it didn’t even register at first. But there definitely was a lack of diversity, not just of gender, but on all fronts.
Sentry: Why is it important for women to work in HIT? What would you say to those considering or coming into the field?
It’s getting easier and more acceptable for women to be in HIT, but I think women still need to remember that they have to raise their voices. It’s easy for women’s voices to get lost in meetings because other voices may try to take over or lead discussions. Because of the way women have traditionally been socialized, it takes a little something extra to make sure we are heard. I think it’s still a truism for women that we have to be twice as good just to be perceived as equal, so I would say learn as much as you possibly can. Become a subject matter expert and come prepared to meetings and discussions with that knowledge at your fingertips.
I also think mentoring is one of the most satisfying things you can do at any job – and that goes for helping both men and women. In the late ‘90s I was an IT manager, and I had a younger man working under me in computer service. He was smart, but he had a poor attitude, so I kept working with him and trying to help him grow. He ended up staying at the company and doing really well, even after I had moved on. Many years later, just a year or so ago, he reached out to me on LinkedIn and said, “Thank you for believing in me all those years ago.” That really stuck with me. I find that challenging people while mentoring them at the same time is very rewarding.
Sentry: What is your role at Sentry, and what’s your favorite part of the job?
Melinda: I’ve been with Sentry for six years and was recently promoted to director of data governance. I manage a team of developers, data modelers and data governance experts. We’re focused on Sentry’s data resources and the data pipelines through our back end. While we’re not directly customer-facing, what we do will impact customers. We also interact with clients’ data, developing code and processes that make clients’ data usable throughout the rest of the system.
What I enjoy most about Sentry is working with the people. It’s a combination of being given the opportunity to mentor others and share what I’ve learned, and also the chance to make use of my talents. At this point in my career, I feel like I’m able to make the right strategic decisions about software development and data governance, and Sentry allows me to excel.