Our Nurses Know: Technology

January 10, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

Karen Hollingsworth leads the Clinical & Operational Applications division within HITS.

As a freshman in high school, Karen Hollingsworth, R.N., M.S., CPHIMS, knew two things for certain — she would follow in her father’s footsteps by attending U-M for college and she would pursue a career in nursing.

“I have a younger brother who was born with a congenital heart defect that was repaired the summer I started college, when he was 10 years old,” said Hollingsworth, who now works as a senior director in Health Information Technology & Services (HITS). “I think that watching what he went through and seeing how his health care challenges affected our family definitely influenced my decision to become a nurse.”

Hollingsworth was accepted to the U-M School of Nursing. Eventually, her nursing career would take a turn — leading her on a winding path back to Ann Arbor, and a fulfilling, though slightly different, future in health care.

A move to technology

After completing her nursing degree, Hollingsworth headed west and started as a staff nurse at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. She also enrolled in the University of Utah, pursuing a Master’s degree in physiological nursing.

“The hospital where I worked was an affiliate of Intermountain Healthcare, an organization that is very prominent in informatics and at the forefront of technological innovation,” said Hollingsworth. “We were using a version of electronic health records back in 1980 and utilized computers in our daily work well before a lot of other organizations.”

That emphasis on using technology made it easy for Hollingsworth to transition from nursing into a career in information technology (IT).

“The move from nursing into IT is a more natural progression than many people realize,” she said. “Nurses are at the front-line of patient care, using many of the technology systems and applications in place at health care institutions. They often understand technology needs that would benefit patient care and better utilize hospital resources.”

Hollingsworth made a full transition into a career in technology during her time as the director of critical care nursing at Genesys Health System in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

“At the time, we were merging four hospitals into one and constructing a new hospital building,” she said. “When the IT project director position suddenly became available, I was asked to step in and lead the project. I thought I would be managing nursing documentation implementation, but ended up leading the entire project, including the physical moving of hardware and equipment and many new systems implementation.”

This new position required Hollingsworth to call on her past experience at LDS Hospital.

“I was so thankful for my background at LDS because I had an increased understanding of technology systems and applications that were beneficial in this new role,” she said. “That knowledge combined with my nursing experience gave me all of the tools I needed to transition into that new role.”

Back where she started

More than 20 years later, Hollingsworth’s career has come full circle — she returned to her alma mater in 2014 to lead the Clinical & Operational Applications (COA) division within HITS and occasionally teaches and precepts with the U-M School of Nursing as an adjunct instructor.

As a senior director in HITS, she leads a team of more than 200 staff members, including four directors and 15 managers, who are responsible for at least 300 clinical and business applications relied upon by patients, clinicians and staff every day.

“Many of the applications we support are tied to MiChart, but our team is really in charge of almost any application that helps the health system function day-to-day,” said Hollingsworth.

Examples of programs managed by her team include those used to regulate the temperature of the refrigerators used in clinical areas and many of the cardiology systems used throughout the health system. They even manage the software used by the cash registers in the hospital gift shops.

Hollingsworth credits her U-M nursing degree for the success she has had over the course of her career.

“I truly believe that my nursing degree was the springboard for my career in information technology,” she said. “A nursing degree from the University of Michigan opens many doors, and I believe that our curriculum really prepares graduates for a career that extends beyond nursing. Health IT continues to evolve and expand and nurses will always have an important role to play in the field.”