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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Masters in Nursing Informatics

Informatics Article   (2,003 Views | 22 Replies | 1,275 Words)

Lisa Brooks has 14 years experience as a BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in Informatics, Managed Care.

2 Articles; 342 Profile Views; 10 Posts

What do I need to know before starting a master's program in Nursing Informatics?

This article describes 5 aspects of life as an Informatics Nurse I wish I knew before starting a masters program. With growth potential in this field still above 10%, and renewed interest with the rise of telehealth and remote working, I aim to share the perspective of one who has been in this field for the last decade.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Masters in Nursing Informatics
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With COVID-19 ushering in wide-spread use of telehealth, and companies moving entire staff to remote working overnight, interest in Nursing Informatics has resurfaced.

Since going into Nursing Informatics over 10 years ago, I routinely receive questions from nurses exploring the field.  Most people want to know about job opportunities and pay range, but there are assumptions nurses make about what it is like working in Informatics.

I applied for a master’s program in 2008 because I saw Nursing Informatics as a chance to bridge the gap between the bedside nurses and technologists building systems.  I saw the potential of Health Information Technology to transform the patient experience.

Nursing Informatics was also a high growth field with an excellent salary and it remains so today.  Careers in Health Information Technology are expected to grow 11% through 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

However, there are key nuances to the field of Nursing Informatics I wish I knew before applying for a master’s degree.  Here is what I would have wanted someone to tell me:

#1: A Masters's degree in Nursing Informatics alone may not be enough.

You may need another degree to complement it in order to progress your career.  This could be a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) or a Masters in Statistics if you want to pursue a career in healthcare data.

Once I landed my first job in an Information Technology role, I found that my Masters in Nursing Informatics was not well understood.  The advanced degree that many leaders in Information Technology have is the MBA.

The Nursing Informatics degree helped me get my foot in the door.  But that degree alone was not sufficient to help advance my career.

After developing a solid mentoring relationship with a more senior person in the department, I ultimately got an MBA as well.

#2: You will likely start out as a Clinical Business Analyst, Subject Matter Expert, or Product Owner.

While researching potential jobs, do not limit your search to ‘Informatics Nurse.’  Nurses in Informatics can have many different job titles, including Clinical Business Analyst, Subject Matter Expert, and Product Owner. Here is what each role does:

Clinical Business Analyst

This role helps to define business requirements and prioritization of features.  They collaborate with technical team members like software developers and testers to make sure the system being built meets the business need.  Having a clinical background is helpful in this role because you will better understand business needs in context.

Subject Matter Expert

The purpose of this role is essentially as it sounds - you are hired because you are an expert in a particular area.  For example, if a system development team is supporting a Hospice and Palliative Care unit, if you are a nurse with that background you can help them to understand workflows, processes, and nuances that only an experienced nurse can.  Strictly speaking, a master's degree is not required for this role, and I have met several Informatics Nurses who entered the field because they were tapped to be a Subject Matter Expert.

Product Owner

In the technology world, there is a role for a Product Owner in a software development process called ‘Agile.’  In this approach, the Product Owner is responsible for analyzing the needs of stakeholders and defining the roadmap for the technology product they are assigned to.

#3: This is no escape from weekend on-call work.

Many nurses picture working with a technical team as a stable 9-5 job with no required overtime or weekend hours.

While it is true that Informatics Nurses are generally in salaried positions (with bonuses), there is still weekend and evening work.  These additional hours are usually not compensated outside of the role’s existing salary, which is part of why this field can pay so well.

Most software releases and major ‘go-lives’ are scheduled for the weekends.  The entire team is expected to be on video calls or in the room during major releases.

The hours can also be very long: think 6am-10pm to give teams in India or Croatia time to sync with your team.  Major releases do not happen every day, and most software companies only have 1-2 per year.  Depending on your role, you may be involved in 1 per quarter since many healthcare organizations use several major systems.

#4: You are not expected to be the technical expert.

When I was in my master's program, I stressed constantly about trying to absorb every technical term and concept that came up.  I thought I had to convert myself into a technology whiz to make the transition into Informatics.

Once I landed my first job in Information Technology (IT), I quickly realized that is not the expectation for Informatics Nurses.  I was paired with a Technical Lead - a person with a Computer Science degree and years of experience in system development.

Typically Informatics Nurses are there because of our clinical expertise and ability to communicate with a technical team.  Your role is to represent business needs from the perspective of an end-user (I.e. a nurse).  Because of your background and the degree in Informatics, you can speak both languages and translate between the business and technical teams.

There is a level of technical detail required for system implementations, and the technical lead drives that part of the work.

The exception to this rule is if you are already a technical person coming into nursing.  I have met several people who had careers in IT before transitioning into nursing.  Smaller companies may tag someone with this background to perform both roles - the Informatics Nurse lead and the Technical Lead.

This is not necessarily a good thing since that person has to balance business needs with technical feasibility.  If you find yourself in this position, you may want to negotiate taking one role or the other.

#5: Expect lots of remote-working and remote teams.

Even before COVID-19 converted many companies into remote-working environments, many people in healthcare technology worked in virtual office environments.  Much of the system support work for even smaller companies is done either offshore or ‘near shore’ (I.e. in the Western Hemisphere).

Many teams are also supplemented with consultants who travel from other states.  Expect to work with remote team members at least on Mondays and Fridays when consultants are traveling.

With Covid-19, many companies are thinking about keeping their staff remote permanently.  For the foreseeable future, you may find you are remote more often than you are in person.

In closing:

I would advise anyone evaluating a career in Nursing Informatics that it is still a great field to seek.  My most rewarding moments have been when nurses tell me how much easier their jobs are with a newly redesigned assessment, or with the ability to have information at their fingertips they never received before.

The life of an Informatics Nurse is different than I expected going into a master's program.  Knowing what I know now, I would still choose this path because the rewards and career growth have been tremendous.

Nurses in Informatics have an opportunity to help their peers leverage new tools, data, and insights.  This, in turn, helps us serve our patients more effectively.

References

https://www.bls.gov/OOH/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm.
https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/product-owner-roles-and-responsibilities

I am a Registered Nurse with a background in Informatics, Nurse Education, and Managed Care. I work as a freelance writer on the side, and enjoy combining my knowledge of healthcare with my passion for writing.

2 Articles; 342 Profile Views; 10 Posts

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dracarys bsn has 16 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in L&D, Epic IT.

1 Follower; 16 Posts; 91 Profile Views

Maybe I'm the outlier, but I've been in informatics as a clinical systems analyst FTE for 8+ years with just my BSN. I specifically support the Epic EMR. None of my colleagues have a master's degree, but we are expected to become certified in the Epic applications we support.   

Product Owners at my org are director level, so yes, a Masters would be necessary, but not necessarily in Informatics. 

I am expected to be the technical expert, but I do have a technical support rep from Epic if I need help. 

I do not work weekends unless I'm on call and, which is every 6-7 weeks, and there is an active issue, or if we have a major go live. I do not work overtime, but there are times when I go over 40 hours slightly. Fridays at 4pm I'm shutting my workstation down. 

With Covid, yes, I'm now working from home 100%, but prior to that I was working from home 50%.

With that said, I'm not loving my job anymore and am looking to go back to clinical practice somehow, but the pay is excellent and I can't take the golden handcuffs off just yet. 

Edited by dracarys bsn

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Lisa Brooks has 14 years experience as a BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in Informatics, Managed Care.

2 Articles; 10 Posts; 342 Profile Views

Thank you for the insights on your experience @dracarys BSN!  I was hoping to hear from some Informatics Nurses to see what others have gone through in this field.  I am sorry you are not loving it anymore, though.  Have you thought about switching organizations (those Epic skills are super in demand)?  Or making that move into Product Owner?  I started out as an analyst as well, but really enjoyed my work more when I made it into a Product Owner role because I could influence business direction.  I found that tremendously satisfying.

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dracarys bsn has 16 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in L&D, Epic IT.

1 Follower; 16 Posts; 91 Profile Views

1 minute ago, Lisa Brooks said:

Thank you for the insights on your experience @dracarys BSN!  I was hoping to hear from some Informatics Nurses to see what others have gone through in this field.  I am sorry you are not loving it anymore, though.  Have you thought about switching organizations (those Epic skills are super in demand)?  Or making that move into Product Owner?  I started out as an analyst as well, but really enjoyed my work more when I made it into a Product Owner role because I could influence business direction.  I found that tremendously satisfying.

I've actually been at 3 different Epic organizations; they're all the same 😄 

I'm glad you have had a positive experience. I think I've just been soured for so long that I don't really want to climb the ladder. I won't go into too much detail but I am on a very dysfunctional team with no real leadership and I'm over it. 

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TechNurse434 has 10 years experience.

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I finished my Masters NI degree last August and been working as an analyst since then. I’m not 100% enjoying my job either and want to switch roles but Im not EPIC certified but used it at the bedside and still having a hard time getting another role. I’m Monday through Friday with no call and good pay as well. 

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384 Posts; 9,237 Profile Views

Looking forward to the responses on this one. I am but a newb LVN, but in a former life was an IT guy. Bachelor's in CS, 23 years experience, yadda yadda, yadda. The minute I go into an interview situation, it's the same thing - "You oughta go into Informatics..." and the whole spiel; usually ends with "don't call us, we'll call you". Couldn't we just cut to the chase and tell me "No"?

Anyway - you gave me one solid piece of info, namely that an Informatics degree by itself might not be enough. One of my biggest challenges in IT was that while I had a solid CS background, I had almost no business background. One of my first CS professors pointed out that it'd be a real good idea to have a dual degree in CS and something else. Wish I'd have listened. Might look into Nursing Administration should I opt to go that route.

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Lisa Brooks has 14 years experience as a BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in Informatics, Managed Care.

2 Articles; 10 Posts; 342 Profile Views

@TechNurse434 CONGRATS on finishing your masters!  That is a big accomplishment.  And I didn't love my first job in NI either - I was an analyst, had little say in what we were doing, and felt a bit less effective than when I was doing bedside care.  The good thing for me at least was as I got more experience I was given better projects to work on, and put in charge of some that were actually interesting.  Would your employer help you to get the Epic certification?  It is in demand and very portable.  With experience in 3 Epic organizations, @dracarys BSN could probably give you better insight.

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Lisa Brooks has 14 years experience as a BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in Informatics, Managed Care.

2 Articles; 10 Posts; 342 Profile Views

@IEDave Welcome to nursing!  

Yes, my experience is also that IT leaders lean towards wanting to see dual concentrations (in my case, NI was not enough).  Nursing Administration could be interesting for you since you already have the tech background.  I have generally seen people choose that degree who want to become a Chief Nursing Officer someday.  We definitely need more leaders who understand tech and can help nurses navigate through.

Just keep in mind that if you want to go into Informatics, a Masters in Business Administration may translate better.  Depending on the program, you may be able to do a concentration in Healthcare Administration and/or Healthcare Technology.  

There are also schools that offer dual degrees if you are up for it.  These obviously take longer, but you could walk away with more options.  

I think the key thing is figuring out where you want to go as a nurse.  You may find that after practicing bedside for a bit, you want to go in a completely different direction than Informatics.

I wish you luck!

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dracarys bsn has 16 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in L&D, Epic IT.

1 Follower; 16 Posts; 91 Profile Views

16 hours ago, TechNurse434 said:

I finished my Masters NI degree last August and been working as an analyst since then. I’m not 100% enjoying my job either and want to switch roles but Im not EPIC certified but used it at the bedside and still having a hard time getting another role. I’m Monday through Friday with no call and good pay as well. 

Thanks for the shoutout @Lisa Brooks 🙂

I often look back and think I got lucky. I was a RN who followed another RN colleague to a different hospital system from the one we worked into an Epic role. I was hired with the intention that they would send me to Epic to get certified and I would stay for a year. (A lot of people get Epic certified and then go contract for $$$, hence them wanting you to stay a year) My husband was military at the time and we got relocated, so I did not stay for the full year (did not have to repay anything). But this hospital system was hiring mass FTEs for the Epic implementation project and I was able to get in. My pay about doubled going from RN to this analyst role and I didn't even have a BSN at the time I was hired. 

I've seen a lot of orgs take the staff of the Epic application they are going to be using and plop them into the analyst role. For example, an inpatient RN could transition over to the Epic Clin Doc team because he/she has historical workflow knowledge and end user experience that would transfer over to the new role. Keep your eyes open for those types of positions! 

 

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ikarus7401 has 18 years experience and specializes in informatics for 10 years.

1 Follower; 247 Posts; 7,316 Profile Views

Been in the so call informatics field since 2005, started as a Surginet analyst, then switched over to become a consultant, then became physician provider support in epic, then epic analyst.

For me personally, I want a job that gives me the ability to travel and see different cities, experience different cultures. Thanks to these jobs, I've been sent to Europe and Latin America. But the best part was the ability  to work remotely for many years, and since I could work from anywhere, moved to Europe and traveled all over there, learned 2 additional languages, and have enjoyed my life. My bachelors degree has been good enough to allow me to do that, and since I'm not the type who enjoys office politics, getting an advanced degree to have a leadership role has never been my goal, but seeing the world has.

The most painful part in the past was finding employers that would allow remote work, but with covid19, the old guard who believes you have to be in the office 24/7 to do any work is finally realizing that their medieval beliefs will be significantly decreased, if not almost completely abolished! 

 

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3 Posts; 710 Profile Views

Thanks for starting this post @Lisa Brooks This is extremely helpful. 

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Lisa Brooks has 14 years experience as a BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in Informatics, Managed Care.

2 Articles; 10 Posts; 342 Profile Views

@ikarus7401 Your travel sounds amazing!  It sounds like you fully took advantage of the remote-working flexibility of the field where you could.  I do hope companies learn from the COVID-19 experience they don't need as many people in person as they thought.

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