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UW HIMT Faculty Member Pushes Students to Find Success Through Class Discussions and SWEATT Model

Kaitlynn Martin February 4, 2019

As a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) online degree program, Russell Roberson brings 35 years of experience in pharmaceuticals, devices, and product lines to his online classrooms. Recently retired from his role as Quality Assurance/Regulatory Affairs Executive at General Electric Healthcare, Professor Roberson weaves his insider’s perspective of the ever-evolving HIMT field throughout highly interactive lessons and class discussions. This Q&A dives into Professor Roberson’s teaching philosophy and the use of his SWEATT strategic thinking model to strengthen students’ abilities to help those in times of need as future HIMT leaders and professionals.

How do you approach your classes in the UW HIMT online degree program?

In the HIMT 320: Survey of Information Technology in Healthcare and HIMT 445: Application of Leadership and Management in Healthcare Technology courses, we really learn and go deep. What’s most important with these online classes are the discussions, which are where the real learning happens.

I tell students that during the 15 weeks of the class we’re writing the most comprehensive and up-to-date textbook together. Our class and discussions are our classbook, and it won’t be successful if I only participate. If you’d look at my classes and discussion boards and take all of the posts and put them together — at the end of the class you would have 1,200 to 1,500 pages of single-spaced notes about the topics we’ve discussed. I’ve received comments from students years after completing my classes who say that the notes are still amazingly helpful today.

What are the strengths of teaching UW online courses?

The online education structure through University of Wisconsin Extended Campus is built to be extremely interactive. I require students to be logged in and participating about three days a week, because I’m adding new information everyday.

I’ve taught online and in the classroom. With the right group of students, online classes can be an amazing experience because the level of detail you get in the discussions are deeper than what you get in the classroom. Now, if you don’t want to be active, if you don’t want to be pushed, and if you don’t want to be challenged, then this is not the place for you.

However, when you are present and collaborating with everyone in the class there is a payoff beyond getting a favorable grade. The key is that you get to know people from Green Bay, La Crosse, Kenosha, Madison, Chicago, and more. At the end of the day, HIMT is a small field. So, in class you’re building a long-term network you can use down the road.

These connections alone are some of most important values of education. Online education can be a relationship builder, but only if you’re truly dedicated to connecting with others. That’s where I come in. My job is to make sure we all stay active.

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What is the SWEATT model? What was your motivation behind its development?

From my previous positions at General Electric Healthcare and Baxter Healthcare, I’ve experienced many senior level presentations. I know exactly what I expect to see when people present to me, whether they are entry-level employees or seasoned directors. I took my experience and made sure that students in the HIMT 445: Application of Leadership and Management in Healthcare Technology class go through a five-part project proposal that they put through an improvement plan, which includes the SWEATT model.

The SWEATT model — an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Excellence, Actions, Threats, and Team —  is the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) model on steroids. As I was developing and working on my leadership approaches throughout my career, I realized I needed a foundation of strategic thinking that led to accountability. In the SWOT model, each category seemed very vague. There was not a clear way to act upon these traits or to be accountable for the defined action. Over time, I developed the SWEATT model to fill in these gaps. I’ve used it for multiple years, taught it at many universities, and presented the model worldwide.

The SWEATT model forces us to think in a different way and to often pursue an uncomfortable result. These results or the process to get to the result in the SWEATT model might be uncomfortable because you are no longer setting generic goals. It forces you to have very difficult discussions about where you and your team are today, and where you are all going tomorrow.

How does the SWEATT model look in the HIMT field?

In my classes, particularly HIMT 445: Application of Leadership and Management in Healthcare Technology, we spend a good amount of time discussing and applying the SWEATT model. This approach gives students a window into the mind and the soul of leadership. And one of the most important things we can do as leaders is to communicate how we think and why we think, which can be clearly demonstrated in the SWEATT model.

Take customer satisfaction, for example. If I were to define customer satisfaction as a strength of a business, I’d have to find a way to measure it. Then, by using the SWEATT model, I’d define the current value of customer satisfaction — let’s say it’s 97 percent. Next, I’d come up with a movement point. In this situation, it would be a percentage that takes this strength to a weakness. The movement point is essentially what it takes to move out of the SWEATT category.  

An against the grain example of this movement point could be that my business’s nearest competition has a customer satisfaction of 85 percent, so we set a movement point at 87 percent. I might say to my team that we’re spending a lot of money being at 97 percent, and maybe we should get worse. Perhaps we should drop down to 90 percent because we would still be above the competition and can distribute the customer satisfaction budget to other parts of the business. That movement point might seem counterintuitive because it’s decreasing our customer satisfaction value, but by decreasing a strength we can improve a weakness.

The SWEATT model forced me as a leader in the business world to deeply understand my team’s movement points — how far we can move within an area before it becomes a weakness, and vice versa. This way, we know exactly what we want to achieve.

What advice do you have for prospective HIMT students?

HIMT is dynamic and growing, yet it is still in its infancy. Now is the exact time to play an active role in the HIMT field.

The best advice I can give to students is that they have to be all in. HIMT is not something that you’re going to be able to learn through osmosis. You’re going to have to study. You’re going to have to work. You’re going to have to struggle with it.

You must remember that the biggest part about this industry is that you’re working to help others. At the end of the day, everything you’re learning and doing impacts someone who is in a time of need. We offer information and technology that helps doctors and nurses make decisions that impact people who are not in the best position to make decisions for themselves — and that responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly.

I’ve had two very significant cancers, and I’ve been on the receiving end of many HIMT decisions. HIMT is a field with a responsibility to the service of humanity. When we make a mistake, it’s big. But when we do it right, the impact can be significant. There are people out there every day that don’t know our names but are very happy that we pay attention to the details of HIMT, which gives them their best possible chance at a favorable health outcome.

What’s Next?

Would you like to explore UW HIMT, a degree that prepares you for the fast-paced field of health information? If so, contact an enrollment adviser at 608-262-2011 or learn@uwex.edu. Enrollment advisers are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST, or by appointment.

Programs: Health Information Management and Technology