Tech Savvy? Consider a Career in Informatics Nursing

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Masters Degree in Nursing InformaticsIf you think you have what it takes to be a nursing informatics specialist, you probably do. An experienced nurse who has been a computer superuser on the job is probably already eyed by management as a potential informaticist.

Health care facilities have been heavily dependent on digital technology for some time now, increasingly as a result of federal mandates for electronic record keeping. These facilities increasingly have found it prudent to designate some of their own employees to be liaisons to the computer operations.

“They are the translators between the nerds and the nurses, or the technical people and the facilitators,” says Brittney Wilson, a Georgia-based informatics nurse who blogs about her profession as The Nerdy Nurse.

Nursing informatics job description

As leaders in the field of health informatics, nurse informaticists work as chief nursing informatics officers, clinical analysts, informatics nurse specialists and nurse data scientists. Their scope of practice may include participation in the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of electronic health records in health system organizations. They play a vital role in the application of information systems in analyzing and researching clinical and administrative performance analytics. And they assist in the integration of information technology into the workflow of nurses.

“I’ve never met a person who was an informaticist who did not first work in health care on the floor. In a hospital, I’d say 80 percent are nurses.” — Brittney Wilson, aka The Nerdy Nurse

The American Nurses Association describes the role as “overseeing the integration of data, information and knowledge to support decision-making by patients and their health care providers.” The ANA says the skill set includes “strategic planning, implementation planning and execution, analysis of data and workflow, project management, resource management, database management, education, research, software development, product marketing, and product sales.”

Many of those duties and skills may be called upon in nursing informatics. But what continues to stand out among the qualifications is this two-fer:  computer-savvy nurses.

“Usually it’s a nurse who has a knack for technology on the floor,” Wilson says.

Although leadership and project management are components of nursing informatics, some of the tasks may be more mundane-sounding.

Wilson said one of her first tasks was to refresh and refine all of the nurses’ computers — a task that certainly makes use of nursing expertise.

In a similar overhaul, “one of my roles was with home care. I was the inventory manager for that one. I didn’t like the way the hardware team dealt with their laptops.”

“A lot of times, the people who come into these roles have been nurses for 20 years and know these software systems like the back of their hand.” — Brittney Wilson, aka The Nerdy Nurse

There are computer-oriented jobs in which a bit of hardware expertise is called for, but Wilson said it’s not likely that a fledgling informaticist would be expected to exceed a comfort level.

“You’re going to have a hard time finding an informaticist whose first job was an implementation,” she says.

But to get off to a good start, you have to be a self-starter who can figure out what needs to be done. “As far as what your daily work is to support X,” Wilson says, “you pretty much have to piece it together.”

Informatics nurse salary

The combination isn’t considered easy to find, although the average salary was $100,717 in 2014, according to a survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), up from $69,500 in 2004. According to June 2015 data from Salary.com, the median expected annual salary for clinical informatics coordinators is $78,949.

The demand for nurse informatics specialists is growing even more rapidly than the need for new nurses overall. About 11,000 of the nation’s roughly 3 million nurses are informaticists. The American Medical Informatics Association says as many as 70,000 nursing informatics specialists/analysts may be needed by 2020, which would represent an increase of more than 500 percent.

How to become an informatics nurse

Although the information technology acumen informaticists need for these hybrid positions is important, many, including the Nerdy Nurse, stress that nursing experience takes precedence.

“I’ve never met a person who was an informaticist who did not first work in health care on the floor,” Wilson says.  “In a hospital, I’d say 80 percent are nurses.”

Superusers “become sort of an informatics leader in their work area and act as a liaison to the informatics team for any new initiatives,” said Ellen Pollack, MSN, RN, chief nursing informatics officer, UCLA Health, Los Angeles, in a nurse.com article about how to become identified as a potential informaticist. “It gives them the ability to get inside the inner circle and gives them the experience that can then allow them to get a position as nursing informaticists.”

Ultimately, the potential informaticist is advised to expand on that interest by seeking a master’s degree or other certification, but demonstrating digital expertise on the job is a foot in the door.

Wilson says youth is not necessarily an advantage for breaking in.

“The young folks are usually from the vendor side. They’re two different worlds.  To be very young and work in a hospital IT department is a rarity.”

“I was 26 and was the youngest person in the department by about six years. Most of the average age was in the mid-to-late 40s.”

Still, the most daunting aspect of nurse informatics is the task of finding enough of them to fill the growing demand.

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