Polytechnic Alumni Spotlight: Ilona Monkman, One of Canada’s First HIM Professionals to Work in a First Nations’ Health Centre

Polytechnic institutions offer expert-led, industry-relevant training for high-performance talent. In this Q&A series, graduates from across our member institutions discuss how a polytechnic education helped propel their success in diverse fields.

Polytechnics Canada sat down with Ilona Monkman, a lifelong learner and graduate of Saskatchewan Polytechnics’ Health Information Management (HIM) program. She is the HIM practitioner at the Sturgeon Lake Health Centre on Sturgeon Lake First Nation. In this interview, Monkman explains how her education at Saskatchewan Polytechnic provided her with the skills needed to launch a career that entails managing critical health information.

Polytechnics Canada: What made you choose Saskatchewan Polytechnic as part of your learning journey?

Ilona Monkman: After completing a Bachelor of Science degree, I found myself unsatisfied with my career prospects. I decided it was necessary to take a new approach with my education, this time with career-focused learning as a requirement. After viewing the Saskatchewan Polytechnic website and reading through the various program descriptions, I felt their practical learning opportunities and industry-aligned curricula were the best fit for me and my needs.

PC: Polytechnics like Saskatchewan Polytechnic are known for their hands-on, experiential learning opportunities and vast employer networks. How did these opportunities and resources influence your path to becoming one of the first HIM professionals to work in a First Nations’ health centre?

IM: As part of my program, there was a practicum placement at Sturgeon Lake Health Centre which allowed me to move four-and-a-half hours from home, meet amazing people and learn about a whole new mindset. My supervisor at Sturgeon Lake Health Centre was aware of the practical learning opportunities Saskatchewan Polytechnic offers its students so I was able to be a useful resource from the start. This hands-on placement set me up for success, no matter how unique the work environment, because I was able to actively use the skills I had already been practicing at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

PC: What role does experiential learning play in preparing students for a career at the forefront of managing critical health information?

IM: Hands-on learning from day one provides the opportunity to quickly know if you’re heading down the right path or if you won’t be happy with the field in the long run. The experiential nature of the HIM program prepares students because it keeps pace with the long-term educational needs of students, recognizing that virtually every learner is there to build a career in this profession. Because this is a lesser-known profession, the program’s practical learning opportunities and the specific focus on managing private and sometimes sensitive information made me aware of my own expertise and how I would fit into a health organization.

PC: How do you practice lifelong learning in your own career and skills development?

IM: When I joined Sturgeon Lake Health Centre, I realized there was more to learn since I had never worked at a First Nations’ health centre before. I am excited to have had the opportunity to learn about nēhiyawak values and spirituality; it helps me connect with my Métis background and stay open to different ways of life. Of course, I also do HIM-specific continuing professional education courses online and incorporate what I learn at the clinic. I’m excited to continue hosting Saskatchewan Polytechnic students at the Centre, as I believe these practicums help develop soft skills you cannot learn in a classroom, like trustworthiness and professionalism.

To learn more about Ilona and Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Health Information Management program, click here.

About the Author

Ilona Monkman

Ilona Monkman is a graduate of Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Health Information Management (HIM) program and is one of Canada’s first HIM professionals to work in a First Nations’ health centre.