Jessica Cataldo, assistant professor of health care management, teaches students in the state-of-the-art Experiential Learning Lab for Informatics Education (ELLIE), where they receive hands-on training with specialized software programs to enhance their technical skills and prepare them for internships and jobs. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

May 10, 2022

SIU’s state-of-the-art lab helps health care management students jumpstart their careers

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Thanks to a specialized lab and training offered at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, health care management graduates have an edge over many of their peers when they enter the job market, officials and graduates say. The system allows students to review patient medical records, analyze charts and risk factors for better patient outcomes, process billing data to facilitate revenue cycle improvements, review insurance claims data for accuracy and integrity, create disease outbreak models and more.

“The Experiential Learning Lab for Informatics Education, called ELLIE, is a cutting-edge and dynamic computer lab environment for the training of the health care workforce, both clinical and managerial,” said Jessica Cataldo, assistant professor of health care management.

The state-of-the-art lab, located in Room 60 in the ASA Building, west of the Banterra Center, features 40 computers with specialized software programs to enhance the technical skills of health care management students.

“Given the need for workforce readiness in health care analytics and informatics, making these learning opportunities possible for our students gives them a distinct advantage,” Cataldo said. “This training really improves our students’ job readiness. Employers tell us they require less training than other interns and new hires. And the training they have received at SIU also translates into the ability to use other health care management and informatics programs too.”

The training prepares students well for a fast-growing field, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a job growth rate of 32% for health care management in the decade ending in 2030.

Well-equipped and evolving

Courtesy of ELLIE, SIU’s health care program students are given access to some of the most advanced technology in the country, including EPIC, one of the premier electronic health care platforms, according to Cataldo and Kyle Triplett, clinical instructor of health care management. Triplett said it is very rare for a university to be able to offer in-house training with an electronic health records (EHR) program such as EPIC.

The program allows students to conduct a thorough review of charges and codes to assure everything is accurate so health care facilities can properly get paid. The process involves encrypted emails, many hours of training, and much more, beginning with a set reference point.

Students use the software to review patient charts, study risk factors, outcomes and other facets to assure the most favorable outcomes for treatment. In addition, they learn to navigate electronic health records, which Cataldo said can be tricky because sometimes providers enter notes in structured ways and sometimes randomly.

Students also use the high-tech programs to create disease outbreak models, which became even more relevant with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cataldo. They typically use simulation software to look at an influenza outbreak, tracking case numbers and locations, vaccinations, interactions and much more. Cataldo said in the last couple of years, these lessons really came alive for students as they saw the dramatic effects a disease or pandemic can have.

Despite the adjustments required in the last couple of years due to the pandemic, the scope of the ELLIE lab has already grown and proven instrumental in student success, officials said.

“There is so much potential here,” Cataldo said.

The lab was remodeled and updated with the latest technology shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Southern Illinois Healthcare providing valuable assistance for the initiative by sharing time, training space and staff. SIH gives training opportunities to allow SIU’s health care management faculty and students access to its EPIC training modules and experts as well.

Numerous health care management classes meet in the same classroom and faculty are phasing in the usage of the ELLIE technology, a process that the pandemic slowed a bit. Triplett has integrated it into his health care finance class, and last semester, Cataldo incorporated it into her epidemiology/chart review class.

Prepared for internships and careers

The training health care management students receive in the ELLIE lab helps them prepare for required 150-hour internships and for their careers.

“This gives students valuable, critical experience with important programs and skills that they can put on their resumes,” Cataldo said.

Triplett said he has heard multiple stories about how well Salukis are doing.

“The preceptors overseeing our interns tell us that our students have much shorter learning curves and a broader scope of comprehension when it comes to health care management technology overall,” Kyle said.  “It’s a big advantage because it translates directly to their ability to use skills that are utilized on a daily basis in the field of health care management. It’s hands-on learning that matters.”

Ricky Waldron, a senior health care management major from Herrin, Illinois, trained in ELLIE during his health information management class and said “getting electronic health record experience is vital in today’s health care world. Learning workflows in non-clinical areas, such as billing or running reports for quality, can help you prepare for your internship as well.”

He said working with the state-of-the-art system allowed him to apply classroom instruction to real-world situations.

“ELLIE does a great job helping students get a great baseline knowledge of how the health care system works and how to utilize the workflow skills that you will need for a career in health information or informatics,” Waldron said.

He is putting his training to good use this spring working an internship in the clinical informatics department at SIH. Moreover, well before he graduates next month, he had already accepted a position as an informatics specialist with a company that operates multiple health care clinics of various kinds in the metropolitan Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Waldron said it was definitely advantageous during his interview to be able to share details about his classroom experience and hands-on learning and how he was able to use that knowledge on various projects during his internship.

Creative learning

SIU’s health care management faculty employ other creative teaching techniques as well. On a recent spring day, the classroom moved outdoors and students divided into groups for a learning exercise.

The goal was to simulate a process improvement project. Each group of students had to pass a ball back and forth as fast as possible but in the same order, much as they would process a task when working in the health care management field. Sometimes they were aligned in a circle, sometimes in lines but always, they had to maintain the same order, regardless of position, and complete the task without dropping the ball. The students were required to talk, strategize and plan just as they would if handling a patient care file.

The groups competed to see which one could strategize to more quickly to complete the task in the most streamlined, expeditious, efficient way – just as they would handle a health care situation for the good of the patient and the institution, Cataldo said.


Students in one of Jessica Cataldo’s health care management classes recently participated in a creative learning experience simulating a process improvement project. The goal was to pass a ball back and forth as quickly as possible in a specified order, much as they would a task in the health care management field, and find ways to improve the efficiency of the process by communicating. (Photo by Russell Bailey)