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Pursuing a Career in Health Informatics

In the past, information systems or computer science professionals would interpret the requirements of clinicians and administrative personnel and create technology solutions to satisfy them. This approach was fraught with miscommunication issues, so much so that the technology that was eventually implemented often did not meet expectations.

As technology concepts became more universally known by the general population, the foreboding nature of technology began to lessen. This led to a movement to minimize miscommunication and acceptance issues by involving business personnel in more of the technology requirements gathering, selection and implementation processes. This was the start of informatics as a career.

The careers that are available in health informatics are as varied as the specialties found within the health care systems of not only the United States but every country in the world. It is common for hospitals to have nursing, clinical, laboratory, imaging and population informatics departments. Often, these departments are staffed by tech-savvy medical professionals who have left the bedside or research bench to expand their careers. As such, doctors, nurses and other allied health staff are found within the informatics ranks. However, the concepts involved in health care delivery are intuitive, so professionals in other fields are gaining health care knowledge in a university program and then entering the workforce.

Nova Southeastern

The biomedical informatics program in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) currently offers a number of health informatics degrees and certifications. These include an M.S. in biomedical informatics, a graduate certificate in medical informatics, a graduate certificate in public health informatics, an M.S.N. in nursing informatics and an AMIA 10x10 Certificate.

“The biomedical informatics program prepares students for a number of different career opportunities in hospitals, health care delivery systems, health IT systems vendors, e-health companies, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, public health agencies and academic institutions,” said Christie Nelson, the program manager. “The types of jobs include chief medical information officers (CMIOs), nursing information officers, chief information officers, project managers, implementation specialists, systems analysts, project designers, researchers, template writers and educators/trainers, among others.”

Students and alumni of the program have been hired or promoted by Cerner Corporation, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Cleveland Clinic Florida, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna Life Insurance Co., Dell, Community Health Systems, Memorial Healthcare Systems, Baptist Health South Florida, and Broward Health, among others.

According to Nelson, the program’s curriculum is designed with focal areas in clinical informatics (specifically application and evaluation of health IT), computer science in regards to health informatics, and the business/management of health IT.

A wide range of professional health care degrees that complement a degree in biomedical informatics are also available at the university. These include degrees in osteopathic medicine, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, dentistry, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, sonography, psychology, audiology and information technology among others.

NSU’s student body ranges in age from 21 to 65.

“Our student body is 60 percent female and racially/ethnically quite diverse. It is 31 percent black/African-American, 21 percent white/Caucasian, 15 percent Asian, 13 percent multiracial/ethnic, 12 percent other/unknown and 8 percent Hispanic/Latino,” said Nelson. “While 85 percent of our students are U.S. citizens, they hail from 17 different countries around the world. Currently, our students reside in 17 different states and three countries. The biomedical informatics program includes both veterans and active duty servicemembers and their families. NSU is committed to assisting veterans in taking advantage of their educational benefits and providing them and their families with opportunities for educational and career growth.”

Nelson explained that NSU also partners with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

The university believes that it is in a unique position to provide clinical informatics training to an interprofessional student body. Originally a joint venture between the College of Medicine and the Graduate School of Computer and Information Technology, the program’s student body contains a mix of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, medical technicians, coders, IT professionals, business/management professionals, educators, researchers and various others.

Students and graduates work in a multitude of settings including hospitals, health care delivery systems, health IT systems vendors, e-health companies, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, public health agencies and academic institutions.

“Each is uniquely contributing to a rapidly expanding field for professionals from every arena of health care and IT,” said Nelson.

As for the faculty of the biomedical informatics program, Nelson continued, “The faculty [members] each bring a significant amount of life and field experience to the table. The faculty is comprised of physicians, attorneys, CEOs, CMIOs, pharmacists, consultants, clinical project managers and researchers.”

Walden University

Walden University’s M.S. in health informatics is a 33 semester-credit program with an optional three semester-credit practicum experience. All of the faculty in the M.S. in health informatics program hold doctoral degrees.

“Students in this online program explore dynamic coursework that reflects current industry standards and principles and allows them to experience opportunities to apply health informatics principles and policies in a variety of real-world settings,” said School of Health Sciences faculty member Ken Bobis, Ph.D. “Students benefit from courses designed and taught by industry leaders, health informatics experts, national policymakers and researchers. They also gain in-depth knowledge of health information systems management, quality assessment and improvement, and the business and financial aspects of health information.”

According to Bobis, the Walden M.S. in health informatics program introduces the student to almost every aspect of the health care technology field.

There are courses in which relationships to the fields are obvious, such as nature of health information, information systems management and project management. Others show the boundaries within which informaticists must conduct their work. These include courses in legal, regulatory and ethics issues, health care business and finance and quality.

“In our program, the student is asked to integrate all of the topics into a final scholarly project. This shows another important side of informatics, namely research,” said Bobis. “A graduate of the program will feel well-equipped to enter the health informatics field and comfortable working in that environment.”

Students pursuing careers in health informatics at Walden range from being in the mid-20s to 60 years old. “I have had several military veterans in my health informatics classes,” said Bobis. “While they had prior military experience, their current role was in nursing, allied health or the business side of health care in the civilian sector. In an academic setting, they exhibit the same characteristics that make them attractive as employees in corporate America—namely, dedication to a task, conformance to requirements and instructions and the ability to follow any task through to its logical conclusion. When a veteran is a student in one of my classes, they are generally in the top tier of performers. “

According to the university, Walden’s programs are designed with an eye toward addressing the needs of working professionals and to emerging and long-term trends. The M.S. in health informatics program at Walden University is a contemporary one. Each course in the curriculum has applicability not only to a student’s future career but often to their day-to-day work. In the weekly discussion forums, it is common to have a student post how content from the course was applied that day to their job, a testament to the effectiveness of the program.

“The range of courses in the curriculum take a new student from learning about the U.S. health system to running technology projects, as well as gathering requirements and implementing technology solutions,” said Bobis. “Many of the courses require hands-on software usage. For example, the database course asks the student to implement functioning databases from which they see the value of health care data on a firsthand basis.”

The project management course requires the student to develop a project schedule that is based upon a standard project management methodology. In both of these courses, knowledge gained in the classroom can be directly applied in the workplace.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri (MU) offers a residential and an executive health informatics program. The residential program begins each fall and is on campus weekly. The executive program begins each spring; students attend class one weekend a month, while the rest of their work is done online.

According to the student services team, the health informatics program prepares students to pursue careers in a wide range of health care organizations and related settings, such as hospitals and clinics, pharmaceutical firms, health insurance companies, research labs, governmental and nongovernmental agencies and beyond.

“Those interested can look at our alumni database and see where our alumni are currently working,” said Veronica Lemme, student recruitment specialist and alumni relations liaison. Alumni can be searched by degree, job title, employer name, etc.

The university programs focus on understanding, designing and developing information technologies to transform and integrate health systems in the 21st century.

“They foster a student’s research interests in health and biomedical informatics and encourage those with excellent academic performance to pursue the Ph.D. degree,” said Lemme. “Coursework combines classes in computer science, health and biomedical informatics, and health management. The core HI curriculum includes courses in health information systems; information storage, retrieval and management; and research methods and outcomes analysis.”

Special areas of concentration include electronic health care records, information systems for managing health, telemedicine and bioinformatics. All candidates must complete 36 hours of coursework for the residential; students and executives must complete 33 hours.

“A dual degree is also offered in the department, with the Master of Health Administration (MHA/HI), which takes three years to complete,” said Lemme. “MU Informatics Institute (MUII) offers a doctoral degree program in the areas of bioinformatics, health informatics and geo-informatics.”

According to Lemme, “Classes are very diverse. Our residential students come from all over the world as well as a wide array of undergraduate degrees and experience. The executive students are quite diverse in that they come from [different] clinical backgrounds, nurses and physicians, etc.”

Both the university’s residential and executive programs include veterans every year. The school is located next to the Truman VA on campus, and students have opportunities to volunteer, complete internships and obtain employment at the VA.

The university also has a veterans center on campus where students can go to for help applying for benefits and other general assistance (admissions, finances, tutoring, housing, health care, counseling, social support, etc.) during a student’s tenure at MU. The program also has students who finish the master’s degree and then go into the military. Lemme continued, “The distinguishing feature of our faculty is diversity of specialties/interdisciplinary nature. This extends to the campus-wide culture of collaboration across schools and colleges. Some of our faculty have military experience as well.”

Conclusion

Due to the current emphasis on electronic health records and information gathering within modern medicine, including the Military Health System, it often makes sense to pursue a certification or degree in health informatics for many present or future medical personnel. ♦

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 March 2015 15:02

Additional Info

  • Issue: 1
  • Volume: 19
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