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Information Literacy: Clinical Assistant Professor Laura Mills emphasizes the importance of a strong foundation in medical terminology and information literacy

Smiling photo of Clinical Assistant Professor Laura Mills

Joining the UIC Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences (BHIS) faculty as a Clinical Assistant Professor in 2018, Laura Mills uses her background in science and education to guide her students.

Currently pursuing her doctorate (EdD), specializing in Adult Education, Mills always felt inspired to become a teacher, but reminds students to be patient with and have compassion for themselves when finding a career. Having initially been on track to become a pharmacist, she decided to change paths and become an educator with her first position as a high school teacher in biology and chemistry.

Teaching a combination of prerequisite and core courses for both the Online Health Informatics and Health Information Management programs, Mills understands the importance of building a strong understanding of medical terminology and information literacy. Learn more about the courses that Mills teaches, and her advice for students interested in pursuing their degree in health informatics or health information management.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your work/educational background? Why did you become interested in education? 

I was a biology major as an undergraduate, with the initial intention of eventually becoming a pharmacist. The closer I got to pharmacy school, though, the more I felt that pharmacy wasn’t the career for me – at the same time, my father told me he thought I would make an excellent teacher. I had always had teaching as an interest in the back of my mind – I was very fortunate as a student to have wonderful teachers all my life, especially my science teachers in high school – but this was the first time I actually seriously considered it as a career. After some careful thought, I decided to go for it. I finished my biology degree and then went on to graduate school, getting my teaching certificate and my master’s in secondary (grades 6 – 12) education with specialization in science.

What will students learn in your BHIS 406: Medical Terminology course? Why is it important for Health Information Management students to take this course? 

Familiarity with medical terminology, learned in BHIS 406, is crucial for HIM students and professionals because on a regular basis, whether they’re taking courses, working with medical records, consulting, managing medical services, or anything else in the world of HIM, they will be using it.  They’ll need to understand the information that comes their way as well as how to communicate effectively with other medical professionals.

What skills will students develop in BHIS 499: Information Sources in Biomedical and Health Information Sciences? Why will these skills be useful to them in building their career in Health Informatics? 

The BHIS 499 course introduces students to information literacy. Students practice such skills as identifying information needs, developing search strategies, searching various databases, and critically evaluating scholarly literature. Technology and its applications to and implications for healthcare evolve very quickly; knowing where and how to look for reliable information, as well as critically assessing the information found, is therefore increasingly important in health informatics.

The information literacy skills learned in BHIS 499 are important for HI students and professionals because they need to be constantly and critically evaluating information. Whether they’re taking courses or working in the world of HI, they need to be able to identify and apply a variety of reliable information sources.

Are there any projects students can look forward to in any of your HI or HIM courses? 

Students in BHIS 406 can look forward to “translating” previously unknown medical terms and sharpening their term-decoding skills. We’ve all been confounded by medical terminology at some point in our lives, after all. I begin each semester by asking students to reflect on one time they encountered a medical term they didn’t understand – it’s difficult for most students (and me) to choose just one time!

In BHIS 499, students can look forward to seeing their research process mature over the course of the eight weeks. I begin the course by having students explain how they would go about meeting a given information need; then the last week of the term, students revisit that scenario and realize everything they’ve learned.

Have you seen any trends or recent developments that speak to the benefits of having this knowledge in medical terminology or informational literacy? 

Both healthcare and technology are evolving very quickly; students and professionals well-versed in medical terminology and proficient in information literacy will have better chances of keeping up!

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their HI or HIM degree online? 

First: one of the most important things, I believe, is for students to communicate with faculty. Ask questions when you have them (other students likely have the same questions!). Be proactive in letting your instructors know what’s going on with you, if you’re struggling somehow. Remember that your instructors are on your side and want you to succeed. Second: be patient with and have compassion for yourself. Earning a degree of any kind, at any level, is not easy! Know you have support available.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

One more bit of advice: I’ve learned that It’s okay to “not know” exactly what you want to be…when you’re an undergraduate student, or a graduate student, or even approaching middle age and beyond! My own experience has been one of pretty much constant evolution. While the undergraduate version of me would be EXTREMELY surprised by the person I am now (personally and professionally), I really believe that I am right where I need to be at this moment. A little faith and trust in the universe go a long way. You may not have it all figured out right now, but that’s okay, because you don’t have to.

UIC’s innovative and comprehensive Health Informatics (HI) and Health Information Management (HIM) programs prepare students to begin or further their career in a dynamic field and play a vital role in the evolution of healthcare. These 100% online programs are CAHIIM accredited and will set students up to become future leaders in their prospective fields. 

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