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June 16, 2014

Lending a hand to IIS managers, the unsung heroes of immunization records

Some job titles are so self-explanatory that a few brief syllables conjure up an entire job description: teacher, firefighter, doctor, nurse. Then there are titles like Immunization Information System Manager—unfortunately, that’s not one that’s so easy to understand at first glance.

Dan Martin of the CDC speaks with an IIS manager during training.

For the brave souls who tackle this big job, a knowledge gap often exists between new hires (who come from all branches of public health departments) and the many, many duties that this specialized role encompasses. It was this gap that led to my colleagues Bill Brand and Jim Mootrey knocking on my office door earlier this year, asking that I jump on board a new PHII project. The CDC, recognizing the need for further support and enrichment for IIS managers across the country, had reached out to PHII with the request that we design a training program for newer hires.

From there, the brainstorming began! IIS managers, as the overseers, planners and implementers of a state’s immunization record-keeping system, have a broad scope of responsibilities—and accompanying pain points. What, we asked ourselves, were the most essential concepts to delve into, the strategies that would most help our trainees with their work?

IIS managers vote using colorful cards during a training activity led by Mary Beth Kurilo.

After much hand-wringing, planning and waving tearful goodbyes to some beloved topics we just wouldn’t have time for, we emerged with a road map for building a course. With the help of the invaluable Therese Hoyle and Mary Beth Kurilo (both accomplished IIS managers with years in the field) and of the talented Cathy Tencza (curriculum designer extraordinaire), this road map transformed into a finished, actionable class complete with training materials—just add students!

Therese Hoyle walks two IIS managers through the material at hand.

For our first run of the course, held at our headquarters at the Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, Georgia, 14 IIS managers traveled from across the U.S.—everywhere from Florida to New Mexico—to participate in our workshop and share with each other the challenges of their work. This group absolutely bowled us over with their eagerness to learn, their comfort with on-the-fly collaboration, and their all-around enthusiasm for the tasks at hand. Without hesitation, the students tackled topics like how to leverage the resources provided by the CDC, managing relationships with vendors, ensuring data quality, using data effectively and many others.

Over the course of the three-day workshop, one of my favorite things to do was wander quietly around the room and listen—well, eavesdrop, actually! And what I overheard was incredibly encouraging. The participants were always a step ahead of where we thought they’d be: planning, sharing and even debating with each other. Overall, their insights into the challenges of their jobs were very illuminating and will guide us in future iterations of the course.

The course so exceeded our expectations that we and the CDC are planning on doing it again in the near future for a new group of IIS managers! In the meantime, we’ll refer to our student evaluations, giving careful weight to all feedback and considering what topics seemed most useful in the pilot class.

Our top priority—for this course and for all future iterations—is making sure that, when our cohort of trainees leaves the Task Force for Global Health, flies home, and goes to sit at paperwork-piled desks all across the country, the job title IIS Manager has become a little more straightforward.