Nurse informaticists blend a nurse’s focus on patient care with the insights of health informatics. Find out if it’s the right career for you.
Technology plays an ever-increasing role in healthcare. Today, healthcare providers make use of electronic medical records (EMR), remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and more. What has this shift meant to patient care and for the healthcare professionals who provide that care? That’s the question nursing informaticists aim to answer.
A nursing informaticist is a nurse who combines their clinical skills with a knowledge of technology, computers, and data. Informaticists take on complex tasks like using health data to analyze patient care outcomes or train nursing staff in new patient care technology.
“A nursing informatics specialist works to combine the utilization of healthcare technologies and the delivery of healthcare,” explains Debra Henline Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI, a nurse educator who teaches nursing informatics to post-graduate students. “In other words, this job involves integrating nursing with computer science and technologies in order to cut costs, boost efficiency, and improve patient care quality.”
Nursing Informatics: Using Data to Improve Patient Care
First, let’s break down that job title. What, exactly, is informatics? The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) defines informatics as “the science of how to use data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.”
When you combine that science with nursing knowledge, you get nursing informatics.
Nursing informatics is a field dedicated to delivering high-quality patient care through efficient management of data and technical systems. Using data, an informatics nurse can analyze trends, monitor for any consistent errors, and implement new, more efficient systems. Informatics brings advanced technology to the daily work of nurses.
On a daily basis, that means you’ll use technology and data to improve patient care in your healthcare facility. Nursing informaticists focus on improving patient outcomes and patient safety. Their goal is to use technology and data analysis to help nursing and other healthcare professionals deliver high-quality patient care. The results of a 2018 survey from The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology underscore the importance of optimal performance of technology in healthcare. The survey found that among respondents who’d visited a healthcare provider in a 12-month period, 32% experienced some sort of gap in information exchange that hampered their medical care. Respondents reported being required to:
A nursing informaticist works to prevent problems like these in their hospital or facility. They can do this by taking steps from a care-focused nursing perspective to improve EMR accuracy and communication between departments. They can also make sure the programs they’re implementing and the steps being taken are achievable for nursing staff.
Do Nursing Informaticists See Patients?
Generally, nursing informaticists don’t see patients. A 2020 survey from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) found that over 70% of nursing informaticists don’t do any clinical nursing care. In fact, the same survey found that 45% of nurse informaticists work remotely at some point during their workweek, and 21% who work remotely do so every day.
Around 45% of nurse informaticists are able to perform at least some of their work from home.
While nurse informaticists don’t provide hands-on treatment, they are still contributing to patient outcomes. Instead of face-to-face service, nurse informaticists work behind the scenes. They make sure all the systems are in place so that patients can get the care they need. That means you’ll play a major role in a patient’s hospital stay or clinic visit as a nurse informaticist—just not the one traditionally associated with nurses.
Roles and Responsibilities
Nursing informatics is a high-level role with a lot of responsibility. In this job, you can take on a variety of tasks depending on where you work and what your title is. Common daily job duties might include:
What Degree Do I Need?
You’ll generally need at least a bachelor’s degree to work as a nurse informaticist. While most nursing roles require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), those studying to become a nurse informaticist can earn a bachelor’s in a relevant field such as health information technology or healthcare informatics.
However, many nursing informaticists hold degrees higher than a bachelor’s. Particularly if you want to advance or take on a leadership role, earning a certification, a graduate degree, or both, can be a big help. It’s also becoming more common.
The HIMSS survey found that 66% of nursing informaticists had a master’s-level degree in 2020. Among informaticists with a master’s degree, 27% had a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in nursing informatics specifically.
An MSN can allow you to apply for higher-level roles and leadership positions. You also have the option to reach beyond a master’s degree and earn a doctorate. Earning a doctoral degree can open even more leadership and administrative roles and help you advance your career.
While most nursing roles require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), those studying to become a nurse informaticist can earn a bachelor’s degree in another relevant field as long as they’re licensed as an RN.
License and Certification Requirements
You’ll need an active registered nurse (RN) license in good standing to work as a nurse informaticist. Beyond that, you have a couple of certification options. Certification is growing in importance in the nursing informatics field. The 2020 HIMSS survey found that 78% of nurse informaticists felt having a certification added credibility, and more than 80% felt it would have an impact on their career.
Healthcare facilities in your area might have certifications they prefer. You can check job listings to see what they require.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track salary data for nurse informaticists. It does, however, classify them under the broad umbrella of “all other health information technologists, medical registrars, surgical assistants, and healthcare practitioners and technical workers.” In this category, the average salary is $58,600.
The category includes professionals with a wide range of earning potential, with the bottom 25% earning $35,170 and the top 10% earning an average wage of $103,430. Data from sources such as the HIMSS survey indicate that most nursing informaticists are among the top earners under the category’s umbrella.
Nursing informatics is a growing field, so if you choose this career, you’ll need to stay current as technology continues to evolve.
“Committing to lifelong learning is probably the best solution,” says Sullivan. “Stay open to novelties and innovations, attend seminars and conferences, and stay informed.” She suggests joining and becoming active in professional nursing associations related to informatics, and also consider earning additional certifications for your specialization.
Nurse informaticists who responded to the HIMSS survey agreed. According to the survey, the top ways to stay informed in the field include:
You can find sources you like best while always being on the lookout for new ones. You can check out a few of the nursing informatics-related associations below to get started: