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Nurse Information Systems: Converging Nursing with Information Technology

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The field of healthcare is as lucrative and essential as the field of engineering and technology. Every field had been affected by the information technology (IT) revolution, where the capability of the recipient field has improved by convergence with IT. The same has been true even with nursing technology; like any knowledge-intensive field, nursing was greatly impacted by the explosive growth of computer technology. The field of nursing information systems is a new and exciting specialty that combines nursing skills with computer expertise. Nurse informatics specialists, or nurse informaticists, manage and communicate nursing data and information to improve decision making by consumers, patients, nurses, and other healthcare providers.

Eligibility for Nurse Informaticists

Although nurse informaticists will provide little or no direct patient care, they will still need an active registered nurse (RN) license. If you mean to go into the field of nurse information systems, the educational requirements can be met in three ways:

  • Earning a bachelor's degree in nursing
  • Earning an associate's degree in nursing
  • Earning a diploma from an approved nursing school program
A bachelor’s degree is always preferred over the remaining two. Even registered nurse informaticists who are associate degree holders or diploma-qualified may pursue a bachelor’s degree part-time for the purpose of advancing their careers. The basic curricula for nurse information systems career programs increasingly use computers. For more exposure to computer technology, bachelor’s and graduate-level training is available either within a nursing school program or outside of one, depending on how deeply you want to get into the computer side of things.

Certification as a nurse informaticist can be gained through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). However, this path requires specific coursework, specific experience, and/or continuing education. The requirements can vary according to the state. So, proper research should be done regarding the specific requirements for the nursing informatics specialist path of interest in the state where you want to practice. Upon qualifying as a registered nurse and gaining practical informatics experience, the candidate can then continue to get certification for the skills for which an accredited course must be attended. As nursing information systems is a relatively new field, there are many different courses, each taking anywhere from a few days to months to complete. So, enrolling in any kind of course without information is not advised. When enrolling in a course it should be confirmed that it is accredited by the ANCC, thereby making sure that the achieved qualification will be widely accepted.

The Nature of Work for Nurse Informaticists

Nurse informaticists are equivalent to registered nurses (RNs) with the addition of information technology skills. So, the work they do is a combination of nursing and computer science with the goal of communicating data, information, and knowledge within the nursing profession. Nurse informaticists, or informatics nurses, have a wide range of responsibility, including the design, development, implementation, education, and evaluation of clinical information systems in various healthcare settings, which are then used to provide information to nurses and other healthcare professionals to assist with their decision-making capabilities. As they also have nursing knowledge, they can efficiently handle, and are essential to, the successful design and implementation of healthcare systems.

So, the work profile for a nurse informaticist is as following:
  • Designing, developing, and implementing clinical software systems; the software systems require knowledge of computer technologies that they are able to use.
  • Educating other healthcare professionals on the use of said systems; as this computer technology is new to other healthcare professionals, they educate them on the software or system they have designed.
  • Customizing systems to suit their purposes.
  • Researching potential systems and evaluating their benefits; they also do research and analysis of systems that can be useful to the healthcare system.
  • Using healthcare systems to access patient medical records and support critical decisions; they do database maintenance and utilization through computer software and systems.
  • Updating clinical systems with patient details.
Nursing informaticists work mainly in large hospitals and clinics, though they may also work for vendors serving healthcare systems. Many also work as traveling consultants, traveling to various hospitals and healthcare centers selecting, customizing, researching, and maintaining systems. Most nurse informatics specialists work in a hospital or healthcare setting, yet a significant percentage hold lucrative positions with health-related vendors, suppliers, and consulting firms. The various jobs in the field of nurse information systems include:
  • Nurse programmers, who write or modify computer programs for use by nurses;
  • Nurse communicators, who work with other nurses to identify computer system needs or to assist in the training and implementation of those systems;
  • Informatics nurse managers, who manage or administer information systems; and
  • Nurse vendor representatives, who demonstrate systems to potential customers.
Job Outlook

In 2007, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conducted a major survey of nurse informaticists and announced that the average salary earned by respondents to this survey was $83,675, compared to $69,500 in the 2004 survey. This is strong evidence of the increasing maturity, value, and demand surrounding the specialty. This salary increase reflects the average increase in parameters like graduate degrees, managerial responsibilities, and years of experience. This also showed that nurse informatics specialists working for vendor organizations tend to make significantly more than those working for hospitals and other healthcare organizations; a similar trend had been seen in the past.

As most nurses and healthcare professionals are not adequately trained in information technology, nurse information systems will become even more important in bridging the gap between clinical care skills and technology. Areas like word processing, information search and retrieval, and data analysis may require a nurse informatics specialist's expertise to translate the language appropriately, in addition to those nurse informaticists bringing clinical knowledge to more advanced technical projects, such as the development of administrative computer systems and the interpretation of complex medical data. So, the demand for all types of nurses is expected to increase significantly over the next decade. This will positively affect salaries, schedules, job openings, and the availability of training institutions and government grants for education. So, the field of nurse information systems, combining both nursing expertise and technical skills, can be a great and interesting career to pursue.
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