Talent Tuesday: Building a Future Public Health IT Workforce

By Sherilyn Pruitt, ONC
X: @ONC_HealthIT

Sherilyn Pruitt is a senior advisor within ONC’s office of technology and is also the co-lead for the Public Health Informatics & Technology (PHIT) Workforce Development Program.

1. Tell us about some of the projects or initiatives that you lead.
The program that I am most excited about is the Public Health Informatics & Technology (PHIT) Workforce Development Program that I co-lead with Maggie Wanis from ONC’s office of policy. The goal of the program is to train more than 4,000 individuals to strengthen U.S. public health informatics efforts, improve nationwide public health data collection and analysis, and increase representation of underrepresented communities within the public health IT workforce.

I also serve on the Federal Interagency Technical Working Group (ITWG) on Race and Ethnicity Standards that was created a year ago by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The ITWG’s charge is to provide recommendations for revisions to improve the quality and usefulness of OMB’s race and ethnicity standards (SPD 15) so that data can be collected consistently across the federal government. This will enable a better understanding of how federal programs can best serve our diverse country. These standards are being revisited to ensure OMB’s standards more accurately reflect our country’s racial and ethnic diversity. A Federal Register notice seeking public input was published in January. There was a contest among the ITWG members to guess the number of comments in response to the Federal Register notice, and I won! I guessed 17,465 and there were 17,587 comments. OMB will issue final revised standards during the summer of 2024.

2. What led you to your career here at ONC?
I worked on several programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) before arriving at ONC. I worked extensively with community health centers, health care for the homeless and public housing primary care programs, rural health networks, and was the director of the office for the advancement of telehealth for five years. I was hired at ONC to be the director of the office of programs and management (OPro) which was a perfect fit for my expertise and abilities. The primary reason I accepted the position was because it allowed me to have a broad impact on a larger number of people – both in terms of the staff that I led as well as the reach of the programs. At that time, OPro was responsible for the Health IT Resource Center, Community Health Peer Learning, Workforce Development Program, and Community health information exchange (HIE) programs, and communities of practice. In my current role, I build upon ONC’s previous workforce development programs to train the next generation of public health professionals with expertise in informatics and technology.

3. What are some skills or strengths that you contribute to your work at ONC?
One of my strongest skills is my ability to value and expand the strengths of individuals within the teams that I lead. I believe that everyone has unique abilities and perspectives that should be heard and respected. It brings me great joy to help staff grow and evolve in the workplace.

4. What is something you’ve accomplished at ONC that you’re most proud of, and why?
I am most proud of my role in the creation and management of the PHIT program. This program was conceptualized during the pandemic when racial disparities and health inequities were magnified, especially during the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. People were asking what could be done to improve overall health outcomes for underserved populations. Growing and diversifying the public health workforce is part of the answer. As a result of this program, public health departments across the country will be more fully staffed with public health professionals with diverse technical skills. These newly trained individuals can create policy, make decisions, and take actions that will result in healthier populations.

I have worked in the federal government for a long time, and it is rare to have the opportunity to create a new program and usher it from its inception through sustainability over a four-year period.

When I went to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society 2023 Global Conference (HIMSS23) this spring, most of the sessions I attended raised concerns about having an adequately trained health IT workforce. I smiled each time I heard that comment because I know that over the next four years the PHIT program will produce professionals that will help to fill that gap. After smiling to myself about it, I approached the speakers and let them know about PHIT.

5. What would you say is the best or most interesting part of working for ONC?
By far, the best thing about ONC is the people. Throughout my entire career, this is the smartest, kindest, most dedicated group of people that I’ve ever engaged with. It is a pleasure to work with people who are so intelligent and focused on the mission of our organization.

6. How would you characterize ONC’s success?
I hope ONC’s efforts will increase the number of professionals trained in public health informatics and shine a bright light on ONC’s efforts to improve our nation’s health care delivery system.

ONC will be viewed as successful if our efforts can improve the accessibility and availability of health information when and where it is needed in a secure and private manner.

7. Tell us about a project you are currently working on and how it fits into ONC’s mission.
The PHIT program is creating a diverse workforce that will have the knowledge, skill, and ability to implement and use the most advanced health information technology to improve health outcomes for ALL patients across the US.

8. What are the core values of ONC that are important to you?
Because our office is charged with coordinating nationwide efforts to improve health outcomes through health IT, the ONC values that are most important to me are creativity, openness, teamwork, and integrity.

This post was originally published on the Health IT Buzz and is syndicated here with permission.