When Becky O’Connor and Jamie Beattie received their diplomas during Chippewa Valley Technical College’s spring commencement ceremony, their new employers were among those in attendance offering congratulations.
Dr. Robin Williams and his wife Jackie congratulated the new grads, then reminded them to cancel any summer vacation plans. It’s time to put their associate’s degrees in health information technology to work.
O’Connor and Beattie reported for duty at R. Williams & Associates, a counseling center in Menomonie where the students recently completed internships, the week after graduation.
Dr. Williams, a licensed clinical social worker, contacted CVTC earlier this year seeking student assistance for his growing practice. He needed help with a variety of medical office tasks, including billing, data tracking, and communication with insurance companies.
“These are all things students learn in our program,” says Margie Konik, an instructor in CVTC’s Health Information Technology (HIT) program.
The HIT program was involved in the oftentimes difficult process of finding internship opportunities for its students when Williams came calling earlier this year. “That’s why we were so excited,” Konik says. “Here we had someone coming to CVTC for students who could help his organization. This was totally out of the blue.”
Dr. Williams also took on Daniel Vanden Busch, a CVTC Marketing student, as an intern, charging him with creating a website for the counseling center.
During their six-week internships, O’Connor and Beattie helped to organize the office operations of a counseling practice experiencing growing pains.
“It’s been a very small practice, and all of a sudden it expanded pretty quickly,” Jackie Williams says of R. Williams & Associates. With the recent addition of a second clinical social worker, Kami Ayres, the practice has evolved from a husband-and-wife office open three days a week to a full-time practice serving a growing number of clients who seek everything from life coaching and Christian-based counseling, to therapy for various forms of addiction, depression and other mental health issues.
Previously Jackie Williams handled all office duties. But with the expansion of the practice and her preparations to begin seeing clients as a life coach, she has handed over her office duties to O’Connor and Beattie.
“They basically run our front-end office, including all the client-contact work,” Jackie Williams says. “When they got here (on March 19) they just started putting systems in place, because when our volume started increasing so quickly, it was pretty chaotic for a while.”
“We were there to get the office set up in the proper format,” O’Connor says, explaining that one of her first projects was to establish an electronic connection between the clinic and its clients’ insurance companies, making the claims and reimbursement process much more efficient.
Among Beattie’s administrative tasks has been creating a master patient index, or MPI, which is a list of all past and current clients, including their names, contact information, and insurance data. She also has been developing a policies and procedures manual for the center’s reception area and creating spreadsheets to track the practice’s busiest times and the rate of appointment cancellations and client no-shows.
For both students, their internships provided confirmation that they have made the right career choice.
“It made me realize that I know a lot about the billing side of healthcare. That’s what they are hiring me for,” O’Connor says. “I didn’t realize that I know so much about it until I started doing it. It helped all of the schooling come together for me.”
“What I learned in school gave me the confidence that I could go in there and run the place. That’s the kind of mindset I had going into the internship,” Beattie says. “My classes at CVTC had me feeling extremely well prepared.”
Kris Bignell, a CVTC Health Information Ttechnology instructor, found the students’ confidence to be well-founded when she visited them at work during their internship.
“I saw employees; I didn’t see students,” Bignell. “I saw knowledgeable employees contributing to the operations of a growing healthcare practice. They really were confident and eager to show me what they had accomplished.”
The students’ accomplishments also have impressed Dr. Williams. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them, from scheduling and registering clients to research projects,” he says. “I believe they were very assertive. They initiated themselves with confidence. They’ve certainly exceeded our expectations.”
To the point that, the week following graduation, the former interns became paid staff members at R. Williams & Associates.
“We’re very excited about that,” Jackie Williams says, explaining that O’Conner and Beattie will begin working three days a week, with their hours increasing as the clinic’s workload continues to grow.
“I hope they will eventually become full-time,” she says. “Their work has been very, very, very good. We’re very pleased.”