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Jobs in health informatics

New government emphasis on electronic records guarantees a good career

March 23, 2009
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Looking for a career that is virtually recession-proof? If so, then it's time to consider training for a job in the emerging field of health care informatics. The nation's aging population, recent advances in information technology, and the Obama administration's push for expanded electronic medical records systems are converging to create a "perfect storm" of opportunities in this important component of today's health care systems.

"This area has exploded in the past few years," says Patrick Scollin, associate professor of health informatics in the Department of Community Health and Sustainability at the School of Health and Environment, UMass-Lowell. "And, now that there's funding for health IT in the [federal] stimulus package, a lot of opportunities will surface, particularly for people who have a background and training in both clinical work and IT."

A leader in the field, UMass-Lowell offers a four-course graduate certificate in health informatics designed to prepare health care professionals for a variety of positions in the management of health care data for clinical, financial, or analytical purposes. Many students choose to continue on for a master's degree in health management and policy with a concentration in health informatics. Most courses in the program are offered in a blended format that includes both online and in-classroom learning.

The majority of students are able to complete their coursework while maintaining a full-time job. Upon completion of this training, students are prepared for a wide range of careers, including chief information officer, chief medical information officer, systems/applications analyst, and information technology department director, to name a few.

While the UMass-Lowell program focuses primarily on current health care professionals, other schools are beginning to offer health informatics classes for students who are new to the health care field. For instance, Cape Cod Community College (CCCC) recently launched a pilot program in health care informatics designed to prepare students to work at entry-level informatics positions in acute care or ambulatory care health care settings.

"By nature, the community college is a fabulous place for people who are looking to make a career change," says Candy Center, dean of academic and student affairs, Science, Technology, Math, and Business at CCCC. "A lot of students here are looking to increase or switch or alter their current skill set for today's marketplace. They're looking at our health care informatics certificate as a way to move into a field they see as lucrative and more stable than other alternatives."

In other words, the emerging field of health informatics is not just for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, says Fred Ledley, professor and chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Science at Bentley University in Waltham. However, interested students will need to combine literacy in both computers and health, he adds. "The big picture is that this is a smart area to go into now," Ledley concludes. "It's not just about programming. It's not just about replacing paper. There are jobs in accounting, marketing, IT, and state-of-the- art management. There are issues like medical record-keeping, privacy, confidentiality, and prescription management. And there will be plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs, too."

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