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.
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.
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.
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians - U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics
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