When Going Back is Really Going Forward

February 04, 2020

Amanda Nolan was recently honored with an Experiential Excellence at work award, but getting to that point in her life was filled with hurdles, challenges and numerous doubts, which were holding her back in her career. At the same time, she was working full-time and taking care of her 95-year-old father. 

Then there were even more obstacles when she was in the midst of her studies. In 2018 entering her final year of school, Amanda was displaced from her and her family’s home for nearly a year after a damaging storm and flood in the Boston area, known as a Nor’easter. They lost all their personal items and lived for 11 months in a small apartment while their house was being rebuilt. However, Amanda showed remarkable resilience and plowed through these incredible challenges.

Amanda realized in order for her to advance and move forward in her career, she needed to go back to college and pursue a degree in healthcare. This decision came with more than a handful of questions and concerns. She wondered if she was too old at 50 to go back, and what would people think about her regarding this huge potential turning point – in her career and life.
Amanda reports that she feels blessed with an encouraging manager, friends, as well as supportive family – husband Kevin, a niece Ann Marie and her two sons James and Christopher, who were also in college. She realized she was afraid, and one of the many lessons she learned along the way was if you are afraid, just be afraid and still do what you need to do at work, at school or in life. After numerous discussions with academic advisors, she decided that the online bachelor’s degree in health management at the College of Professional Studies would be the perfect fit. 

For 20 years, Amanda has been working in the healthcare IT industry, developing training materials and teaching doctors and clinicians how to use the electronic medical record system.  She is the manager of electronic medical records training in the IT department at Atrius Health – an outpatient multi-specialty healthcare organization. 

For the health management capstone course, Amanda struggled to select a project and subject matter that would make a difference and add value where she worked. She wanted to learn how she and her colleagues’ work impacted the clinicians’ use of electronic medical records. After several brainstorming meetings with Dr. Earlene Avalon, Health Management and Health Science Assistant Teaching Professor and Faculty Lead, they realized an important project would be to research and streamline the numerous workflows for scanning patient information into the electronic medical records system safely including preserving patient confidentiality, ensuring that the records had the correct information and were done in a timely manner. 

Once Amanda decided on the project, her first meeting was with the director of health information management for Atrius.  She learned specifics about current medical records and scanning patient documentation workflow, and how patient care could be improved by cutting the amount of time needed to manually manage paper files. This meeting and many others ahead required that she step out of her comfort zone.

The Difference

As a result of her diligence and determination to complete this project, Amanda found that her colleagues and fellow students learned more about her and her passion for improving patient care. Her persistence and ability to persevere through her fears inspired everyone around her.

“She was consistently encouraging her classmates, who were facing various obstacles in their own internships, and shared various life lessons she learned throughout her project,” Dr. Avalon said in Amanda’s nomination for the Experiential Excellence award. “You could tell in Amanda’s voice and through her weekly postings that she was proud of her work and her project!” 

This project was very beneficial for Amanda at work as well, and she was able to offer optimization sessions to help staff get a better understanding of electronic medical records functionality. She found it took only a few minutes to start up a conversation, and that gave her and her colleagues a new perspective on a variety of topics and subject matter. 

Lessons Learned and Going Forward

“My lessons learned from this experience is first – if I’m afraid, just do it anyway – even afraid,” said Amanda. “Second, be present and take advantage of having face to face conversations with those you work with – even those you haven’t met.”   

Amanda hopes to be in a director’s role in five years and to go back to school once again. This time she wants to get her MBA degree at Northeastern.

All student winners of the Experiential Excellence awards engaged in meaningful professional experience in the form of co-op positions (working full-time for an employer), a sponsored project in their course or capstone, or an experiential project at their current place of work.  Students’ experiences were directly aligned with their academic work, complementing the body of knowledge in their chosen field with an industry-embedded perspective.