Health Informatics (HI) is a relatively new and growing field existing at the intersection of the healthcare and technology industries. The discipline leverages patient data and health records to improve patient lives and shape healthcare policy.
Health informatics professionals collect, store, protect, and analyze this crucial data. Their roles often involve implementing, improving, working with, and training others to work with software such as electronic health record systems (EHR).
If you want to pursue a technical, rewarding, and in-demand career, health informatics could be the career for you. Earning a Master of Science in Health Informatics is an excellent way to break into and advance within the health informatics field. Below is a look at the main benefits that come from earning your MS in Health Informatics.
Benefits of Earning a Master’s in Health Informatics
Developing Industry Skills
By enrolling in an MS in Health Informatics program, you’ll learn what it takes to succeed in the field and become a valuable asset within the healthcare industry, including the skills and expertise employers are looking for in job applicants.
Of course, what you learn will often depend on the curriculum offered by the program you choose. Most programs will include classes about information technology, the relationship between IT and healthcare, healthcare regulations and best practices, and more. Particular focus is often placed on IT management methods and workflows, improving healthcare delivery and patient and medical staff experiences, and maintaining and leveraging patient health data.
Working in health informatics will take more than just hard technical skills, however. Health informatics professionals are often required to work with and train others in their organization, meaning soft skills like communication, leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking are essential. In evaluating degree options, you should consider how the program will foster soft skills in addition to the more technical ones.
“[Health informatics professionals] need to be good listeners because they need to understand the needs of the end-users of the health information technology,” says Jay Spitulnik, associate teaching professor and Director of Health Informatics Graduate Programs at Northeastern University. “They need to be able to listen well enough to ask the right questions, and then be able to communicate their findings.”
Growing Demand for Health Informatics Professionals
As a relatively new and revolutionary field, health informatics is growing rapidly compared to many other sectors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the industry will grow by approximately 7 percent over the next 10 years, compared to four percent growth for all other industries.
This increased demand is currently outpacing the supply of qualified professionals with the training needed to do the job well. As a result, HI professionals enjoy competitive salaries starting at $69,990 for entry-level health informatics specialists.
While in the past, it was common for health informatics roles to be filled by individuals with general information technology (IT) experience or background, employers increasingly prefer to hire individuals who have earned a degree specifically in health informatics.
Having Multiple Career Options
Health informatics specialist is one of the most common titles in the industry, but it is far from the only one. Roles are becoming increasingly specialized as the field matures, allowing for a wide range of potential career outcomes.
Top 5 Health Informatics Careers
Some of the most compelling health informatics careers (beside HI specialist) include:
- Clinical informatics analysts, who work closely with patient health data and records to glean insights and improve patient outcomes
- Health informatics consultants, who often work on a per-contract basis and advise healthcare organizations about HI initiatives
- EHR implementation managers, who specialize in the development and implementation of electronic health records systems
- Health IT project managers, who oversee major HI projects such as the implementation of health information policies, technologies, and workflows
- Chief medical information officers, who oversee an entire HI department within an organization
If you have a nursing background and are interested in technology, there’s a job position in HI for you, too. Nursing informatics specialists oversee and educate nursing staff on record-keeping protocols, information accuracy, and healthcare systems security. Nursing informatics specialists earn an average of $86,069 per year.
If you prefer the pharmaceutical industry, you can work as a pharmacy or nutrition informaticist responsible for ensuring the safety of medications and suggested treatments by collecting and monitoring patients’ prescriptions and side effects.
Earning your MS in Health Informatics will prepare you with the broad foundation of skills and knowledge that you will need to be successful in any of these roles.
Jumpstarting Your Career in Health Informatics
Strictly speaking, it may be possible to earn an entry-level health informatics position without earning a degree in health informatics. Individuals who have earned an undergraduate information technology degree, for example, are often qualified to work in such a capacity.
To truly excel and advance within the industry, however, an advanced degree in health informatics is often required. This is especially true for many of the more senior positions on an informatics team.
“Earning an MS in informatics is perfect for anyone who has been working in informatics, who has a healthcare (or IT) background, and who wants to advance their career,” Spitulnik says. “We see a lot of people who are already out there doing the work, but they’re getting their master’s degree to help position them higher on the ladder of consideration when applying for a higher-level position.”
Choosing the Right Health Informatics Program
If you are interested in working in health informatics, earning your master of science in health informatics is an excellent step toward doing so. Earning your degree will arm you with the specific skills and competencies required and sought after by employers, making it easier for you to break into the field. If you’re already in the field, earning your degree will increase your ability to advance into more senior positions.
In choosing a health informatics program, Spitulnik recommends that students look for specific key characteristics. First, the curriculum should encompass all of the competencies listed above, touching on both hard and soft skills. Second, the curriculum should offer experiential learning opportunities such as co-ops or internships that will allow you to put your education into action and gain real experience in the field.
Finally, when looking for the right degree program, it’s important to look closely at who you will be learning from. Faculty members who have spent time in the industry bring additional value to their students, imparting real-world wisdom that can be difficult to learn from textbooks alone.
“The fact that our faculty are all senior-level practitioners in the field [is] meaningful because [students are] going to learn from people who know how to do it,” Spitulnik says.
You can find all of these characteristics in the MS in Health Informatics program at Northeastern.