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Nurses interested in understanding how technology and analytics now drive healthcare delivery systems may be interested in a degree in nursing informatics (NI). Somewhat similar to healthcare informatics (HI), nursing informatics integrates nursing and science with communication technologies and information management. Its aim is to promote the overall health of people and improve healthcare outcomes, according to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). It is a field that may seem abstract on the surface, but through data, analytics and technology ultimately works to support “consumers, patients, nurses, and other providers in their decision-making in all roles and settings,” according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
Generally, students entering nursing informatics programs are already licensed as registered nurses (RNs). In nursing informatics programs, students learn more about the technological part of the job, including various design system alternatives, how to manage information technology and how to evaluate the effectiveness of various systems. Nursing informatics students become knowledgeable about databases, information systems, management theories and system security. These expert skills can enable graduates to work in a variety of settings, ranging from ambulatory clinics to acute care or long-term care settings, and in occupations as clinical analysts and informatics nurses.
Degree & certification Programs
Most professionals pursuing an education in nursing informatics need to complete an academic program at the graduate level, although some bachelor’s of science degrees in nursing (BSNs) do offer nursing informatics tracks. Most of the existing nursing informatics program offerings range from a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree with a specialty in nursing informatics (NI) to a post-master’s certificate or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Below are a handful of the available programs that are offered on-campus.
Adelphi University: The 39-credit hour healthcare informatics (HI) program offered through this Garden City, New York school, helps prepare students for both management and leadership roles. The program is designed for working professionals, allowing students enrolled part-time to take courses in the evening and be able to complete the program in three years. So that students gain more practical knowledge, the program features a field experience course as well as a capstone research course. The school also offers a healthcare informatics certificate program and an online master’s degree in healthcare informatics.
Thomas Jefferson University: The MSN in Nursing Informatics degree available through this Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school has been developed for professional nurses and includes six three-credit MSN core curriculum courses exploring topics such as epidemiology in the health professions and health policy, legal issues and the ethics of practice. The degree also includes six nursing informatics (NI) specialty courses, totaling 18 credits and featuring three three-credit practicums. The school’s MSN degree can be completed full-time in just over a year or part-time over three years.
University of Utah: The nursing informatics MS degree available through this Salt Lake City school can be completed on either a full or part-time basis. Students at the University of Utah will have the opportunity to collaborate on informatics projects with highly-regarded faculty. For students looking for another option, a 15 credit hour interdisciplinary Informatics Certificate is also available
University of Pittsburgh: At this Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, school, students enrolled in a graduate nursing program can choose to pursue a minor in nursing informatics. The NI minor is offered part-time for two to three terms with coursework that can be completed online. In addition to the minor, the University offers an entirely online MSN in nursing informatics.
Admission requirements can vary by school, but for nursing informatics programs often include prior completion of a bachelor’s degree and a minimum required grade point average, typically a 2.75 or 3.0. Other requirements can include a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and prerequisite courses in statistics or math. Students may also need to show proof of immunizations, have a physical exam to attest to their overall health, complete CPR certification, demonstrate proof of health insurance, and submit to a criminal background check.
Hybrid & online programs
University of Illinois Chicago
HealthInformatics@GW (The George Washington University)
Due to the nature of the content and course structure, many nursing informatics programs are well-suited to online delivery. Online learning opportunities make it that much easier and more convenient for working RNs to pursue this type of specialized education. Following is a selection of online nursing informatics programs from highly regarded schools:
The University of Maryland: Students enrolled in the online master’s degree program in nursing informatics at the University of Maryland can complete their work either on a part-time or full-time basis. The master’s degree program is broken into three basic areas: nursing core courses and electives, leadership management courses, and nursing informatics courses. The nursing informatics section is the largest, comprised of seven courses including healthcare database systems and human-technology interaction in healthcare. Some of the program’s courses, including the practicum in nursing informatics, have pre-requisites or co-requisites.
Duke University: The 38-credit hour program available through Duke University school can be completed part-time or full-time and almost entirely through distance learning. Students are required to complete a total of two, two-day sessions on campus in Durham, North Carolina over the course of the program. The program includes four core courses, totaling 12 credits, which explore learning about population health in a global society and advanced nursing practice. These are followed by 10 nursing informatics courses, totaling 26 credits, which address data analytics, cognitive informatics in healthcare, and technology leadership. Prior to graduation, students must complete an intensive individualized practicum at a healthcare organization for a minimum of 224 hours. Students should be prepared to sit for the certification exam offered through The American Nurses’ Credentialing Center (ANCC) generalist exam for nursing informatics.
Texas Tech University: Based in Lubbock, Texas, Texas Tech University offers a master’s of science in nursing informatics (NI) degree online. However, occasional trips to the Lubbock campus are required for field experiences or to complete immersion work related to competencies. The degree is composed of 39 semester-hour credits and should allow students to sit for ANCC certification and the HIMSS Certified Professional in Health Information Management (CPHIMS) exams. The school also offers a post-master’s nursing informatics certificate for those who already have an MSN degree.
American Sentinel University: The MSN degree in nursing informatics offered through this school has classes that can be completed entirely online. The 36-credit hour program includes 18 credits in core classes followed by 18 credit hours in the nursing informatics specialization. The culminating course is an informatics capstone project, in which students design, implement and evaluate an evidence-based project. The capstone project requires 130 hours of practice experience activities. Students also explore clinical and administrative systems and data mining during the specialization portion of their degree. Twelve classes are required in all to finish this master’s degree in nursing informatics.
Although nursing informatics courses at the programs above are offered online, many schools do have in-person attendance requirements for practical, clinic-based experiences. Applicants should be sure to verify when they will be required to be on-campus or where they will need to complete their practicum hours prior to enrollment.
Core & Elective Courses
Nursing informatics degrees prepare nurses to become experts in the delivery of healthcare by implementing and using information technology to improve health care outcomes and patient care. Many programs first feature introductory courses, often the foundation of an MSN degree, which are then followed by specialty track courses in nursing informatics. These courses are likely to vary somewhat in name, but following are some possibly course titles:
Health promotion and population health
Bio-statistics for evidence-based practice
Professional transitions: advanced nursing practice
Consumer healthcare informatics
Healthcare database systems
Health information exchange standards, methods and models
Informatics of clinical practice
Information technology project management
Systems analysis and design
Practicums are often needed to complete many nursing informatics degrees, but the actual requirements and hours may vary by school and program. Some nursing informatics programs may also have students involved in project management experiences.
Like other nursing programs, many nursing informatics programs are accredited through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The CCNE agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its ability to accredit programs and help assure the quality of bachelor’s, graduate-level and residency nursing programs. A search page on the CCNE website allows students to search for accredited programs filtering by level of education and state.
Another institution accrediting nursing programs is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). The ACEN closely ties its accrediting process of certificate, diploma and degree programs to state exam and licensing processes. The ACEN also has a search page on its website, allowing students to search for programs based on degree level and state.
The full accreditation process is available for review on the respective organizations' websites. Institutions will have to apply for candidacy first, followed by thorough self-evaluation and at least one site visit from designated professionals, typically nurses themselves.
In addition to programmatic accreditation through the CCNE or ACEN, schools should have institutional accreditation that applies to all of their programs. Institutional accreditation is typically offered by regionally-specific organizations such as the Middle State Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The BLS does not currently track data that is specific to nursing informatics specialists. Rather, nursing informatics careers are tracked under the health informatics umbrella, listed as health information technologists and technicians. The BLS estimates demand for these jobs will grow by 13 percent from 2016 to 2026 (BLS 2017).
To extrapolate the kind of growth that nursing informatics careers specifically may have, it is possible to look at BLS predictions for other nursing jobs in conjunction with health information technologists and technician jobs. According to BLS data, the demand for registered nurses is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026 (BLS 2017). Further, nurse.org notes that as many as 70,000 nursing informatics jobs could become available in the next few years, making for a healthy demand in this field.
In terms of salary, registered nurses are typically paid quite well, with the average salary for an RN in the US standing at $73,550 and the top 10 percent making more than $104,100. Since informatics is a specialized field, high education credentials can mean wages towards the higher end of the pay spectrum (BLS 2017).
Licensing & Certification
States do not currently have any licensing requirements for nursing informatics professionals beyond those already necessary to be employed as a nurse. However, there are credentials that nursing informatics professionals may be able to seek in order to demonstrate their expertise and further their careers.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offers two certifications: the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information & Management Systems (CAHIMS), for those with less than five years experience, and the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems (CPHIMS), for those with more than five years experience. The CAHIMS is a new certification. Information, including exam eligibility, review materials and renewals, on both the CAHIMS and CPHIMS certifications can be found on the HIMSS website. The organization celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2016, and has a membership that exceeds 52,000.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) also offers board certification in nursing informatics. This certification is good for five years, and allows nurses to use RN-BC (board certified) credentialing after their name. The computer-based exam for this credential is 3.5 hours long and includes 175 questions. Additionally, graduates of nrusing informatics programs may be eligible for the Certified Professional in Health Informatics (CPHI) credential from the AHIMA.