Nursing Informatics Career and Degree Guide


Here are the Degree Options Available to Become a Nurse Informaticist

If you’re ready to explore a different type of nursing career, consider the degrees that can take you there.

female student with pen looking at computer

The first step on your path to working as a nurse informaticist is getting the education you’ll need. You can work as a nurse informaticist with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but master’s degrees are becoming a lot more common.

In fact, a 2020 survey of nurse informaticists from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) found that 66% of respondents held a master’s degree. Additionally, more schools are offering a master’s in nursing informatics as a degree option, and more nursing informaticists are choosing to go that route.

According to Debra Henline Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI, a nurse educator who teaches nursing informatics to post-graduate students, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can increase your earning potential and open doors to more employment options.

“Those with an MSN are typically preferred for nurse informaticist roles,” Sullivan says.

Learn more about the degree options you have, what a nursing informatics education looks like, and what other steps you’ll need to take to work in this growing field.

What are the Prerequisites?

The first thing you’ll need is an RN license. All nurse informaticists need to hold and maintain an active RN license. That means your first step is completing either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Keep in mind that while you can work as a nurse informaticist with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you’ll still need to be an RN. So earning your RN license with either an ADN or BSN is still your first step.

You’ll need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before you’re granted a nursing license. You’ll need to keep up with your state’s renewal requirements to keep your license in good standing.

No matter what degree you pursue, you’ll need an active registered nursing (RN) license to work as a nurse informaticist.

Beyond a nursing license, your prerequisites will depend on the program:

Undergraduate programs

You’ll need to have a high school diploma or GED before you can begin an undergraduate program. Many schools will also require that you’ve taken courses in science and technology before you enroll.

Graduate programs

You’ll generally need a bachelor’s degree before you begin a graduate program, although there are RN-to-MSN bridge programs offered by some schools. Many colleges will also ask that you take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and achieve a minimum score.

What Nursing Informatics Degree Levels are Available?

Nurse informatics specialists must hold an active registered nurse (RN) license and to get there, you can earn a diploma from an approved nursing school, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. But tread cautiously with an associate degree. While there are nurse informaticists who work with an associate degree, a bachelor’s is generally considered the minimum degree in this field (and most hold a master’s.)

Master’s Degrees

There’s a reason master’s degrees are fast becoming the go-to degrees for nurse informaticists. Unlike a BSN, where you learn about a wide range of nursing issues, a MSN in nursing informatics program trains you specifically for a job as a nurse informatics specialist. A master’s can really expand and advance your knowledge base and prepare you to take on high-level informatics roles.

Entrance Exams

While each individual school’s nursing informatics program will have its own requirements, there are two entrance exams that may be required before you’re accepted into an MSN program.


GRE

The Graduate Record Examination is a test given to graduate school applicants that is designed to assess your readiness for graduate school. It’s computer-delivered and is broken down into three parts, measuring analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.


MAT

The Miller Analogies Test is designed to test a student’s analytical thinking abilities. It’s delivered in an analogy format and focuses on a variety of academic subjects.

Many schools’ nursing informatics master’s programs will require one of these exams. Others may waive the exam requirement altogether; most often if you have a high undergraduate GPA. Reach out to your school’s admissions department for details.

Recommended GPA

Most MSN programs require an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. That said, schools often look favorably on past experience, and many encourage students with lower GPAs to submit personal statements outlining their background and personal goals.

Clinical Requirements, Practicums, and Internships

Again, each program has different requirements, but it’s likely you’ll need to complete a certain number of clinical hours (typically between 130 and 150 hours), a practicum, or an internship during your course of study. You may want to find out what sort of partnerships your school has with hospitals and medical facilities, because those are the places you’ll likely be completing your requirements. Some schools let students choose their own sites in which to fulfill these requirements.

Other Program Requirements

Many master’s level nursing informatics programs will require candidates submit letters of recommendation, write a personal goals statement, and/or sit for admissions interviews. They may also require one or two years of work experience in an industry that can directly translate to health informatics prior to enrolling.

Bachelor’s Degrees

While a master’s is most common, a bachelor’s degree is an entry-level degree for nursing informatics. However, you have a few options. While most nursing roles that ask for a bachelor’s degree require that you have a BSN, that’s not necessarily the case for nursing informatics. While you have the option of earning a traditional BSN, you can also earn a bachelor’s degree in another relevant field, such as:

  • Health information technology
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Healthcare administration

You’ll need to pair one of these degree options with an active registered nursing (RN) license to work as a nursing informaticist. So, a BSN alternative might not be a good idea if you’re just starting your education. They might be a good fit for an experienced RN looking to earn a bachelor’s level degree, however, especially if there are no BSN programs with an informatics or administrative focus in your area. 

Associate Degrees

woman confers with doctor on paperwork

While there are nurse informaticists who work with an associate degree, a bachelor’s is generally considered the minimum degree in this field (and most hold a master’s.) Those employed with an associate degree generally have years of experience and specialized computer knowledge.

They might have also gotten their roles before degrees with a focus on nursing informatics were offered. Keep in mind that nursing informatics is a relatively new field, so requirements are changing and growing along with the field itself. 

What Will I Learn in My Informatics Degree Courses?

You’ll build on your nursing and clinical skills, and you’ll learn how to use them when you analyze data and implement new technology systems. You’ll study how technology can impact patient incomes and about best practices for putting it to use. The specific classes you take will vary depending on your program, but all programs will help you gain an advanced understanding of healthcare data and technology. 

“(Your program) will focus on health information systems,” Sullivan says. “It should also include health law, data design and management, healthcare system optimization, advanced health assessment, and nursing research methodologies.” 

The classes you take in a bachelor’s program will depend on whether you earn a BSN or bachelor’s in a non-nursing health information field. An MSN in nursing informatics will be a lot more focused. Some classes you’re likely to take during your master’s program include:

  • Healthcare policy
  • Healthcare advocacy
  • Healthcare leadership
  • Systems management
  • Nursing research
  • Project management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Workflow and systems
  • Evaluating technological outcomes

“While courses may vary, the curriculum typically includes healthcare systems and informatics, management of information systems, strategic planning, networking, expert systems, and project management,” Sullivan says.

A sample of classes you might take include:

  • Health law and ethics—Covers topics like patient rights, professional liability, and data security. Ethical issues are analyzed as well.
  • Healthcare organizations and delivery systems—A detailed look at healthcare organizations, how to manage organizational structures, and dealing with financial and regulatory issues
  • Health information systems—Provides background and overview of IT in healthcare, how to communicate with IT personnel, and security issues
  • Measuring performance standards—Covers quality improvement efforts, the role data plays in healthcare, and development measures organizations can take to meet their regulatory and accreditation requirements
  • Systems life cycle—Takes students through the process of choosing and putting a system in place, from planning to designing to evaluating
  • Data management and design—An explanation of data’s relevance in the healthcare industry with a focus on databases, information systems, and systems operations

Do I Need to Be Certified?

While certification in nursing informatics isn’t universally required, it could be a stipulation of your employer, according to Sullivan.

“(Certification) can help you stand out from the competition and discover more employment opportunities,” she says.

Nurse informaticists have a few different options for certification. Many choose to earn the Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). You can also choose to earn one of two certifications offered by HIMSS: the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS) or the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS).

Here are the requirements for these certifications:

  • Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)—You’ll need an RN license in good standing and a BSN or higher to apply for this certification. You’ll also need to have at least two years of full-time RN experience and at least 2,000 practice hours in nursing informatics. Additionally, you’ll need at least 30 hours of continued education in informatics or at least 12 credits hours of graduate-level coursework in informatics in the three years before you apply.
  • CAHIMS (entry level certification)—You’ll need at least 45 credit hours in courses that are related to health information. This can include health information technology, informatics, and digital health. There is no degree requirement for a CAHIMS certification.
  • CPHIMS (professional-level certification)—The requirements for CPHIMS depend on the degree you hold. If you have a master’s, you’ll need at least three years of experience. If you hold a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need at least five. You can also apply if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s, but you’ll need 10 years of informatics experience. 

What Accreditation is Available for Programs?

Accreditation is one of the most important things to look for when you’re selecting a program. You can trust that an accredited program has met standards that will ensure you receive a solid education. Your school and program need to be accredited no matter what track you’re considering. While you can often take the NCLEX after completing a program that is approved by your state board of nursing but not accredited, going that route can seriously slow you down later on.

Additionally, accreditation is extremely important if you need loans or other financial aid. Only students attending accredited schools are eligible for federal student aid. Plus, your credits from an accredited school are more likely to transfer if you decide to continue your education down the road. This is especially important if you’re planning to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate later.


Informatics programs are accredited by:

The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN): ACEN accredits associate, diploma, bachelor’s, and master’s nursing programs.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): CCNE accredits bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs.


How Long Will It Take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a nursing informatics degree can take the following time to complete:

  • Master’s degree programs generally require two years.
  • A bachelor’s degree program takes four years.
  • Accelerated BSN programs range from 12 to 20 months.
  • Associate degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunities, usually take two years.

Attending part time is usually an option at most schools, but bear in mind it will take longer to complete your program.

Are Online Programs Available?

Yes, you can generally earn a degree online.

However, note that many programs require clinical hours for completion. Even though your program might be less hands-on than some other nursing specialties, a nurse informaticist is still a nurse, and you’ll need clinical experience.

woman surveying projected data

You’ll need to complete your clinical hours at a local hospital or healthcare facility to earn your degree. Clinical hours will be required of all BSN and MSN programs. The requirements for a non-nursing bachelor’s will depend on your program.

What Kind of Jobs Can I Get?

There are several job titles under the nursing informatics umbrella, and your degree might impact which of these roles you’ll be eligible to hold. For example, you might be able to work as a nurse informatics specialist with a bachelor’s degree, but working as a chief nursing informatics officer normally requires at least an MSN.

Entry-level and bachelor’s degree-level informatics nursing jobs include:

  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Clinical analyst
  • Clinical applications specialist
  • Nursing informatics consultant

Job titles that often require a least an MSN include:

  • Manager of clinical informatics
  • Chief nursing informatics officer
  • Nurse educator / instructor

As a general rule, you’ll need an MSN or doctorate if you want to take on leadership or administrative roles. Nurse informaticists in roles like manager of clinical informatics or chief nursing informatics officer are leaders of teams and departments and nurse informaticists with bachelor’s level degrees might work under them. They have increased responsibilities and often work with hospital or health system administrators to make large changes. They generate ideas, manage projects, educate staff, implement systems, measure outcomes, and more.

Nurse Informaticist Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t currently track salary data for nursing informaticists. However, it does classify them under the large hybrid category of “all other health information technologists, medical registrars, surgical assistants and healthcare practitioners, and technical workers.”

Health Information Technologist Average
Annual Salary


$58,600

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019

The hybrid includes jobs at a variety of salary levels and reports an average annual salary of $58,600. However, the top 10% of jobs in the category pay an average of $103,430. Data from the HIMSS survey and other salary reporting sites show that nurse informaticists are often part of that top 10%.


stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

debra sullivan

With professional insight from:

Debra Henline Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, RN, CNE, COI

Nursing informatics instructor


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