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Registered Health Information Technician

Irene Sorensen


The person…

Irene Sorensen has been working at the Kanakanak Hospital for the past 16 years. She began as a cashier at the hospital and has worked her way up to the Director of Medical Records. When asked how she came to work in her current field, Irene says that she used to help one of the hospital employees with CPT (current procedural terminology) coding. After a few months of assisting, Irene was encouraged to get some training in the coding field. She applied to the University of Alaska Southeast distance HIM (Health Information Management) program and began taking one class each semester. This was all she could manage as she had a family to raise, as well as keeping up with her fulltime job.

Once Irene was close to finishing the CCS (certified coding specialist) program, she reviewed what it would take to earn her 2 year degree. Since she was so close, she decided to go ahead and earn her RHIT (registered health information technician) certification. Irene has held many positions in her 16 years at the hospital. Beginning as a cashier, she moved into registration, then into coding and on to coding supervisor. From there she eventually moved into the Assistant Director of Medical Records and is now in her current position as the Director of Medical Records.

Irene split her time between Togiak and Palmer while growing up, spending summers in Togiak and winters in Palmer going to school. During her senior year, she stayed in Togiak and graduated from the local high school. Irene’s grandparents are still living in Togiak. Irene moved to Dillingham in 1987 and has lived there ever since.

Irene has 3 children, 2 boys and a girl. One of her boys is currently going to welding school in Cleveland and another is finishing up high school. Her daughter recently returned from a basketball camp in Anchorage and dreams of earning a basketball scholarship for college.

When Irene is not at work, she likes to spend time with her subsistence activities. In the winter, she and her family enjoy ice fishing for pike, smelt, and trout. They also like to spend time sno-go riding. Springtime is spent collecting wild edible plants such as fiddleheads, wild celery, beach greens and Kapukarat -a buttercup plant that is picked from the ponds. Irene also harvests clams and herring roe in the spring, and dries moose, caribou and pike meat. Summer months are for salmon fishing and berry picking. She and her family like to make salmon strips and cure fish heads in salt.

The job…

When asked to describe some of her typical duties in her job as Director of Medical Records, Irene mentioned that she attends a lot of meetings, writes many reports and oversees any personnel problems. Some of the reports Irene works on include reports for hospital statistics (i.e. how many patients are being seen) and performance improvement reports (i.e. tracking the number of coding errors). She is also responsible for filling out the trauma registry and birth defect reports.

Irene says she also tries to keep an eye out for available audioconference training for her coders. As the Director, Irene also assists her coding supervisor and Assistant Director with personnel problems when needed.

“Our hospital is making the transition to electronic records and so I have been going to a lot of trainings for that.” Irene recently returned from an HIM (Health Information Management) conference in New Orleans. Irene adds, “I will also be traveling to Kotzebue soon to see their implementation of the electronic record system.” Irene says currently the implementation of electronic health records is the most challenging part of her job.

When asked what Irene likes best about her job, she says, “when everyone under me is at their best behavior and I don’t have to discipline them according to the hospital’s policy. Irene adds, “The other piece that I like is that those I supervise are open and tell me it is easier for them to talk to me than previous bosses.”

Advice to students…

Irene would like to advise students to stay away from alcohol and drugs. “These things can get you into all kinds of trouble and you end up doing things you wouldn’t normally do when you are sober.”

Irene would also like to encourage older students to “keep going!” “You are never too old to learn. I was 23 when I started college and 39 when I finished.”

Irene notes that she encourages her staff to go to school. She especially likes the distance programs that allow students to stay in their own communities and earn a degree.

This page was last updated by janice on July 12, 2007

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