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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Working with the best and the brightest

One of the joys of my job, and also its biggest challenge, is that I truly do get to work with the best and the brightest Health IT experts in the world.

I spend a good bit of time traveling to standards events, at least some part of two weeks every month on average.  This is a huge investment by my employer, and I recognize it.  Many others that I know don't travel quite as much, but the investment is still pretty significant, especially for those sole proprietors of their own consulting businesses.  Attending an HL7 working group meeting in the US can range from $1.5K - $3.5K for the week, depending on venue, distance traveled (inside the US), and add-ons (e.g. training and certification), and an IHE event can range from $800 to $2.5K for an individual participant, again depending on venue, distance traveled, and add-ons (e.g., Connectathon conference). I've attended an HL7 meeting on my own dime, it's not something I'm likely to do often, especially since I don't have my own consultancy to fund it.  For participants coming from abroad, it's even more expensive, and I truly admire the ones who manage to fund themselves.

Having said that, one of the results is that the people who DO attend these meetings are the best and the brightest. They are present at those events because their employers believe in them strongly enough to fund their participation, or they are successful enough in their own business to fund it. The cream naturally rises to the top here, and so when you find yourself in a room filled with 50 or 500 people working towards the same goal, it turns out that these are also the best 50 or 500 you could ask to be present.

With that kind of expertise present, things tend to work just a bit differently than they do back in the everyday world.  There's certainly plenty of ego to go around (although some of it exhibits itself in a very id-like manner), and academic games of dominance certainly take place.  But I don't want to focus on the dysfunctional side really, other than to acknowledge it exists.  What is so much better are the opportunities for much better relationships.  In the world of business, I've had one or two mentors, and been a mentor once or maybe twice.  In the world of standards, that's happened to me so much more frequently.  Most people are fortunate to have one or two mentors in their life, but in standards, this is an environment that is simply ripe for developing those sorts of relationships.  You could have two or more mentors in the same organization at the same time, even.  I know I have.  Imagine that!

Attending one of these meetings for the first time is like drinking from a fire hose, especially if you haven't been involved in activities before attending.  It's not for the shy and retiring, but you need not be a raging extrovert either (in fact, I'm simply a well-trained Introvert myself).  The volume and quality of information you'll be getting is huge and valuable.

Managing a group like this (e.g., as a workgroup or committee co-chair) requires a set of skills that is often quite different from your usual work-a-day stuff.

When I get back from IHE and/or HL7 meetings, I find myself both invigorated and exhausted.  Invigorated by new ideas, exhausted by the pace, and excited all over again about what I do for a living.

You are truly, the best and the brightest.  Thank you.


3 comments:

  1. Hi Keith,

    Ever since the 2006 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were enacted, I have been patiently waiting for the day when worlds of e-discovery in healthcare and standards intersect or should I say collide..I think the time is near or has come.

    http://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/view/32323/iso-approves-ediscovery-standards-development/

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  2. Keith, you've echoed my thoughts *exactly*! Especially with regards to the IHE group. I have never in my life encountered a group of professionals so bright, so motivated to make the world a better place, and w.r.t IHE: So completely welcoming of any ideas, enthusiasm and energy.

    Participating in these communities energizes, thrills, inspires and simultaneously scares and exhausts me in just the right doses.

    And it is an honour to be participating in these communities with you! :)

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  3. Hi Keith, I'm touched by your mention about the generosity offered to some of us to be able to participate and take part in standardization activities. For example I attended the recent Baltimore WGM with support from our local affiliate (HL7 NZ) but my employer also let me take that time although in practice it does not have a short ROI for my the University (this is not my idea BTW but they did it anyways).
    I'd also want to acknowledge the Bedogni family in New Zealand who have very generously made an endowment to establish a fellowship program in open systems research - including open standards. That's how I managed to survive for 3 years in the lonely world of standards! I say this because most of my colleagues still do not have a clue what I'm working on. Luckily standards development is accepted as formal 'research' according to the University of Auckland. I'd be interested to know if/how other academics survive and make contribution in HL7 world.

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