Nurses have always been dedicated to the support and delivery of optimal patient care, and informatics nurses are no different – they simply use information technology to achieve their purpose. Integrating 21st-century technology into the healthcare industry is a monumental process, as complex as it is imperative, and necessitating the development of an entire industry. The field of health informatics (HI), which insightfully merges the sciences of healthcare and information technology, is still growing, but the supply of qualified professionals, including informatics nurses, may not always meet demand. This especially holds true today as the enforcement of the federal electronic medical records (EMR) mandate is quickly approaching.
In the field of health informatics, technology informs healthcare rather than vice versa, so nursing informatics professionals will always be nurses first. Most enter the field with at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Relative to nursing, health informatics is obviously still in its infancy, but reputable BSN and MSN degree programs have begun offering an informatics specialty, and more will likely join them.
A declared concentration or advanced degree isn’t requisite, however: according to a 2011 survey conducted by the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), 42% of the informatics nurses polled were RN’s, while 41% held bachelor’s degrees. Almost all respondents had at least five years’ worth of clinical experience; well more than half had at least eleven years’ of nursing experience, although the field evolves so rapidly that a more specialized education may end up supplanting decades of clinical experience in the future.
Informatics nurses aren’t uniformly credentialed, but HIMSS and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) both offer certification programs. In addition, some colleges and universities are beginning to offer graduate certificates in health informatics.
Professional Duties and Work Environment
The core professional responsibilities of the Nurse Informatics professional include collecting, managing and interpreting patient and nursing data; developing and maintaining research protocols and health IT systems infrastructures; building and securing a nationwide health information database; defining, evaluating and revising nursing practices and standards of patient care; streamlining communications within various facets of the healthcare industry; facilitating public health and nursing education; and otherwise advancing patient health through the application of information technology and systems.
Perhaps the most common professional title among informatics nurses is IT Clinical Nurse, or Nurse Informatics Clinician, whose basic duties include operating and maintaining the nursing-related or patient-care facets of clinical IT systems. Nurse Informatics Clinicians may also implement electronic health records (EHR) or clinical information systems, although comprehensive system evaluation and design are typically reserved for Managers of Nursing Informatics (MNI).
All employment sectors within the healthcare industry rely on informatics nurses, from acute care centers to private consultancies, although about half of the respondents to the HIMSS survey discussed above worked in hospitals. Informatics nurses can also be found at pharmaceutical companies, medical research labs and public health facilities, among various other professional environments.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has yet to publish employment or salary data for informatics nurses, given the novelty of the field, but BLS data on RN salaries as of May 2010 indicate a wide salary range, with the lowest 10% of earners taking home less than roughly $44,000 while the top 10% netted more than around $95,000. The median annual wage the same year was just under $65,000. As in most fields, experience and education tend to correlate with better wages and employment prospects in nursing health informatics.
BLS data are culled from employers across the country, and local resources may yield more insight into conditions in a given area, as salary and job opportunity are often dependent upon education, training, experience, physical location and type of job.
Tyana Daley is a writer for University Alliance. She writes about career-related topics across many industries including healthcare and human resources.