What is Nursing Informatics?

Informatics nursing is a relatively new specialty, first recognized by the American Nurses Association in 1992; the scope of practice for this specialty was not developed until 1994. Nursing informatics links clinical skills and knowledge with information technology, most notably in the use of the electronic medical record (EMR). Nurse informaticists may have titles like project manager, decision support manager, system analyst or chief nursing informatics officer. Most nurse informaticists have no clinical responsibilities. Although nurses use all kinds of technology in delivering patient care, the informatics nurse is concerned with integrating data and using information to help make decisions about patient care (decision support).

Unlike becoming an RN, there are no specific educational requirements to become an informatics nurse. Some nurses “drift” into the job because of technical skills and interest. Others complete a formal educational program; both masters and doctoral programs in nursing informatics are available. National certification in nursing informatics is also available and is a measure of knowledge and competence. Since nursing informatics integrates nursing science, computer science and information science, technical skills are a must. A nurse informaticist might develop computerized tools to help nurses make patient assessments, create a template in an EMR to document nursing triage, or teach nurses how to use an EMR. Some nurse informaticists also have programming responsibilities, and many perform database management or create reporting tools to obtain aggregate patient information for research or quality improvement purposes.

Nursing informatics is a small field, with only 10,000 RNs working in nursing informatics in 2010, according to The American Nurse. That’s a small percentage of the more than 2 million RNs the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported working in the US in 2011. The small numbers in an increasingly complex technological environment means job opportunities should be good. The federal government has provided financial incentives to health care organizations to adopt EMRs, which is another indication of the need for nurse informaticists.

Obviously, you’ll need an RN to become a nurse informaticist. And don’t short-circuit the clinical practice aspect; get several years of hands-on experience in nursing so you really understand the issues faced by staff nurses using electronic technology. A bachelor’s degree is a good stepping stool for advanced education in the field, and provides a broad educational platform beyond the clinical skills needed at the bedside. A master’s degree will open even more doors in the informatics field, particularly if you think you might want to move to a management position like chief nursing informatics officer. It would also be a good idea to become certified, as certification may open even more career doors.

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2016-25445  Exp. 10/17