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Meet This Year’s AHIMA’s Distinguished Educator Award-Winner

By Matt Schlossberg

Lynette Williamson, Ed.D., RHIA, CCS, CPC, FAHIMA, will be introduced as the recipient of the 2021 Making Dreams Come True Distinguished Educator Award during the 2021 Assembly on Education Symposium (AOE21).

Williamson, an assistant professor and health information management (HIM) program director for the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu (UHWO), is being recognized for advancing HIM education excellence.

Hertencia Bowe, Ed.D, RHIA, FAHIMA, Principal Consultant at Bowe Academic Consulting, LLC, who submitted the nomination noted, “Dr. Williamson is an exceptional educator, mentor, and colleague who has honorably served her students, fellow educators, and the HIM profession for over 20 years. She stays well-informed of innovative practices in teaching and learning, excellence in online delivery, and maintains a substantial breadth and depth of traditional academic practices.”

Specifically, Bowe noted Williamson’s development of the university’s Working Alliance Through COVID Experience (WAVE) program, which was designed to help students and faculty quickly transition to a virtual learning environment in the early days of the pandemic.

Retooling Education During COVID-19
In the spring of 2020, Williamson helped launch the university’s new academic degree program in HIM, which included a training program that would support the state’s nascent Community Contract Tracer Training Program (CCTTP) and offer resources to educators, students, and the broader community.

Williamson recounted this experience in a September 2020 article for the Journal of AHIMA.

“As a faculty member, I [had] been involved in the planning meetings for this training program. My role [included] adding education around HIPAA, privacy, and confidentiality to the course content plan and more,” she wrote. “Given the nature of HIM and what I saw as a needed element specific for CCTTP, I suggested adding team dynamics as an additional topic area. What tools [could] we, as educators, could provide for our students and the community? How should we respond to a major public health event that would impact Hawaiʻi in unique ways? What could be done beyond communicating information about the virus and instructions on how to self-monitor and quarantine?”

This training went beyond matters of technology and process. The unique cultural aspects of Hawaiʻi required sensitivity to be effective.

“The unique aspect of the [university] program was that [CCTTP] trainees would be members of the community or island. They would be a resident, a neighbor, a member of the ohana (family). This is important for several reasons, based on Hawaiʻi’s geography and the diverse cultures present in the state. Many of those cultures have behaviors and norms based on historical experiences that could make them resistant to talk to a ‘clinical’ person about their ohana and any possible exposure to coronavirus. In addition to fighting the spread of coronavirus, in Hawaiʻi, cultural awareness is vital if you want to make a positive community impact.

“My takeaway from this experience is that HIM professionals play a crucial role in the fight with COVID-19. With our expertise in various aspects of health data, we are an essential asset. HIM professionals, and our ability to focus on data quality, data analytics, and team dynamics, are needed as our nation and world fight COVID-19.

Going Virtual
In addition to the co-development of the training program, Williamson also was instrumental in helping HIM educators and students thrive in a virtual environment.

“Dr. Williamson’s dedication to her students and to helping fellow educators is boundless! When the rapid pivot to online education was required in March 2020, she created an initiative here at UHWO to assist faculty who were not familiar with distance education modalities and tools,” said Lelemia Irvine, PhD, EIT, assistant professor of physics in the mathematics, natural and health sciences division at UHWO.

Williamson says the pandemic offered several life-long lessons on the importance of adaptation.

“From an educator’s standpoint, I really learned the meaning of the word ‘flexibility,” she says. We all had a plan and [COVID-19] threw it all out the window. We had institutional support, which was important, but to be able to have someone you can reach out to when you feel that something is not working right, was extremely important this past year.”

In addition to incorporating the tools and resources of the virtual environment into her overall methodology as an educator, Williamson says the pandemic somewhat revised the nature of being an educator, especially when it comes to reflection.

“Part of the nature of being an educator is a reflection piece,” she says. “What made the last year and a half different is that we were in a constant state of reflection instead of just the end of the semester.”

Williamson is looking forward to AOE21, especially education that focuses on PPE options and innovative teaching strategies. “I love AOE,” she says. “I have been going for years.”

Matt Schlossberg (matt.schlossberg@ahima.org) is a content manager and editor at AHIMA.

Additional Reading
Williamson L. An Insider’s Look at Contact Tracing Efforts in Hawaiʻi. Journal of AHIMA. September 8, 2020. Available at: https://journal.ahima.org/an-insiders-look-at-contact-tracing-efforts-in-hawaii.

AOE21, a live virtual event, and on-demand experience is scheduled for July 26-28. Dr. Williamson will be announced as the 2021 Making Dreams Come True Distinguished Educator Award winner on Monday, July 26, at 11 am CT.

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