by Kathleen Hunter, Ph.D., R.N.-B.C.; Toni Hebda, Ph.D., R.N.; Dee McGonigle, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N. Minority Nurse Writer
In our last column, "Informatics: New Opportunities in Nursing," we discussed how the expanding role of computers and technology in our lives has pervaded health care settings, creating new opportunities for professionals interested in careers in nursing informatics.
With the approval of the HITECH Act in 2009 and funding toward adoption of electronic health records (EHR) technology, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology anticipates that 50,000 new health information technology jobs will be created within the next five years.
There is ample job growth on the horizon. Below, you will find an exploration of the various educational and experiential pathways available to students and professionals looking to enter the dynamic field of nursing informatics.
What skills make an effective nurse informaticist?
Nurse informaticists should possess strong analytical and critical-thinking skills. Having additional education and experience with information systems and databases is also an important part of the occupation. Some prior knowledge of project management is also advantageous, as it is a similar discipline. Although all these skills can be developed during nursing school and in the field as a registered nurse, having a fundamental understanding in these areas can give you a leg up over the competition as you apply for nursing programs and open positions.
What education is required?
The most favored—and direct—route toward a career as a nurse informaticist is through higher education. Formal academic preparation in nursing informatics begins at the master's degree level with a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.). There are many graduate programs that offer specialty tracks in informatics, including on-campus, online, and hybrid programs. An informatics specialty track builds the foundational skills essential to nurse informaticists, training nurses to quickly adapt to new technology and advance patient care delivery systems.
Courses may include the practice of nursing informatics, management of data and information, health care information workflow, and project management. Students learn how to interpret, analyze, and use electronic health record technology, as well as ways to provide greater efficiency and effectiveness in health care practices.
In addition to this course work, most graduate programs require a practicum experience wherein students apply their course knowledge in a real-world setting. Upon graduation, the students are prepared in both the technological side and patient side of health care: they implement innovative EHR technology in ways that set the standards for effective patient care.
Do I need an advanced degree to become a nurse informaticist?
Not necessarily. However, it is imperative that you complete an approved Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) program and become a registered nurse. After completing a B.S.N. program, you must complete and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to become registered to practice nursing in your chosen state. Upon graduation, you can find ways to become more integrated with the nursing informatics profession.
For example, try to develop experience in computerized documentation or some other technological health care focus. Nurses interested in informatics often start out as "superusers," or unit-based support persons. They serve as managers for the main user account for their departments' IT systems. After a certain amount of time spent with IT systems, some superusers are asked to become members of a nursing informatics team or department. However, since these nurses learn about informatics while on-the-job, not through academic training, it is advised that they read relevant texts and journals and enroll in continuing education courses to enhance their formal knowledge and skills in nursing informatics.
Do nurse informaticists need to be certified?
Whether you gained experience in informatics through formal academic training at the M.S.N. level or through on-the-job training after obtaining a B.S.N., it is advised that you become certified by a nurse credentialing organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This distinction will make you more competitive in the job market. The minimum educational requirement to become certified is a B.S.N.; a diploma or associate degree in nursing will not serve as a sufficient academic qualification to become certified as a nurse informaticist.
Where do nurse informaticists work?
Nurse informaticists are becoming key personnel in every health care setting that employs nurses. They help IT professionals better understand the practice of nursing, just as nurses become more knowledgeable with new IT capabilities affecting their practice. Nurse informaticists can be found in hospitals, long-term care, home health care, schools of nursing, IT companies, health care consulting firms, and government organizations.
How do nurse informaticists stay involved in their industry?
There are several organizations relevant to informatics. Among the top three are the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and ANIA-CARING (formerly known as the American Nursing Informatics Association and the Capital Area Roundtable on Informatics in Nursing), which provide education, networking, and information resources for professionals, strengthening the role that informatics plays in health care. Additionally, all three organizations hold annual conferences, and some even host regional events and frequent smaller meetings. At these educational events, nurses learn about new technological developments affecting the health care industry and have the opportunity to network with like-minded professionals from all over the country.
The free scholarly journal, Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), is another great resource for nurse informaticists interested in staying informed on new technology, nursing trends, and research affecting their industry.
Is it a good time to become a nurse informaticist?
Expanding roles and technological advances in health care have increased the demand for nurses to be well versed in informatics. In fact, according to the HIMSS 2011 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, the number of nurses taking the nurse informaticist certification exam with the ANCC has more than doubled since 2005.
Our complex health care environment requires nurses to possess advanced knowledge and understanding of new technologies to better manage information and facilitate decision making. As a nurse informaticist, you will be trusted to adapt to new challenges and embrace the many opportunities found in the ever-evolving field of health care.