A Lucky “Mistake” Leads to AHIMA Presidency

ICD10monitor contributor Rose T. Dunn has a formidable legacy as a leader in the field of coding.

It was the luckiest mistake I ever made. 

I am from a very small township in Pennsylvania, and my high-school counselor, like many at that time, encouraged me to go into teaching or nursing. I told him I really wished to explore medical research. So, he told me that I needed to pursue college courses in medical records. 

It kind of made sense to me at the time. I enrolled in a four-year program at Saint Louis University, and took quite a few science and business courses the first two years, because my medical records courses didn’t begin until my junior year. 

During junior year, I had several additional science-related courses, so I knew I was on track for a medical research career. Then I had my first internship, and there were no microscopes or specimens in sight – just papers and papers and more papers. The excitement for the day was a paper cut, or the begrudging visit by a physician to do his stacks of charts.

By that time, there was no turning back. Lucky for me, upon graduation, I landed the Director of Medical Records position at the 1,200-bed Barnes Hospital, one of the meccas for research in the U.S. It was the luckiest mistake of my life!

I became active in the local and state health information management (HIM) associations, holding leadership positions in both, and then was nominated for the national ballot. I didn’t expect to win, since I had not been active at the national level. But I did. I served two terms on the AHIMA Board – one as a Director, and another as the President. I also served on the Foundation Board as a Director and Chair. Regardless, at that time, the Association and Foundation boards were intent on the Association serving its members, providing superior products, and representing the profession and its members. It truly was a professional association. I learned much from my Association colleagues, and appreciated every tidbit of knowledge each shared with their fellow board members and the Association members.  

As time went on, the Association Board tapped me to fill the CEO’s vacancy. Jumping over to the operational side from the membership side of the Association was a real eye-opener. It was at the early stages of ICD-10, and our Association needed to take some bold steps to retain its reputation as the leader in coding. We set other distractors aside to do so, and the Association succeeded in continuing to be recognized for its coding acumen.

Back when I started, the only career path in the field was in a medical records department at a hospital. There are so many avenues for HIM professionals to take today, and I encourage them to continue lifelong learning – and to look for opportunities where they can apply their health information knowledge and skills to improve the healthcare industry. 

Your career is what you make it. Gain advanced education and appropriate certifications to allow you to make the difference in healthcare.

Programming Note: Listen to Rose Dunn this coming Tuesday on Talk Ten Tuesdays, 10-10:30 a.m. Eastern.


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