Jerry Vuchak graduated from Capella University in 2008 with a Master’s in Human Services, a unique choice for a student with a strong IT background.
Currently he’s vice president, information services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. In this role, he manages IT alignment across Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, in partnership with Washington University School of Medicine. He shares his career path in IT and why he chose a human services degree.
Q. Please share a bit about your background and how you came to study for a master’s at Capella.
A. I began my career in IT, and in 1991 moved into the health care arena. I worked my way up into management and eventually became a vice president at a hospital system in Houston. At that point, I saw that all my peers had a master’s, but I didn’t. I always wanted to go back to school, so I started an executive MBA in Houston. I hadn’t finished when the Barnes-Jewish Hospital opportunity came along. A peer in Houston told me about Capella, and it seemed like doing an online program while managing the move to St. Louis and job transition made good sense for me.
Q. Why did you go into your field?
A. When I started college, I realized early on that I liked programming and solving problems, so I became a computer science major with math minor. After college I worked in various industries, but really found my niche in health care.
Q. Why did you pursue a human services degree for your work in information systems/IT?
A. I’m a unique IT guy in that I love hospital operations. I felt that a master’s in IT would be too narrow and not benefit me in my chosen field, and I like to see how all of the pieces of a system as complex as a health care operation work together. Capella’s human services degree program has a health policy and management concentration, with classes related to the work I do in hospitals. I found classes like finance fascinating, and this was something I might not have studied in an IT degree program.
Q. Do you feel your degree has enhanced your career? How?
A. Absolutely. I knew IT and clinical care, but I learned more about operations and patient populations—things I hadn’t been exposed to before. It’s allowed me to take on projects that aren’t IT-driven and not fly blind.
Q. What industry trends are you seeing that will affect health care IT professionals in the next few years?
A. In the health care IT market, the number of vendors is getting fewer and fewer. There’s a continued collapse of niche players for more integrated systems. And there’s more data exchange, leading health care providers to partner with other health care organizations. There’s a growing need for collaboration in the marketplace.
Q. What is the single biggest challenge facing your field right now?
A. How do you drive efficiencies in your organization? How do you stay financially viable? Most important is the overall need to keep a hospital operationally sound while maintaining quality and safety of care. We have to look hard at how we use resources and at the effect of pharmaceutical costs on our operations, while still striving for the highest levels of care.
Q. How do you keep your industry skills and knowledge up to date?
A. I’m a member of CHIME and HIMSS, both big health care IT organizations. I network with executives, discuss trends, and attend boot camps and meetings to keep on top of what’s happening in the field. My workplace also has a huge academic campus where leaders come together and trade best practices.
Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A. The first health care CIO I ever worked with once said to me, “You’ll go very far if you don’t ask and demand all the time. Do the work, take what they give you.” Which basically means, work hard and you’ll be rewarded. As I’ve moved up to VP, it’s worked for me.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not working?
A. When I turned 50, I had some bad habits—a not-good diet, no exercise, and those were starting to take a toll. My doctor told me if I didn’t change my ways, I’d need to start taking medications. I didn’t want to go that route, so I began eating better, and now I exercise six days a week, three days with a trainer. I look like a completely different person, a younger person. I’m a living testament to diet and exercise.
Q. What is one thing your colleagues would be surprised to know about you?
A. I have musical taste that’s wide and varied, including rap.