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What’s next: Health Informatics Master’s Degree or Certificate?

July 08, 2020

Are you looking to advance in a career that puts you at the forefront of patient care, yet doesn't involve hands-on treatment? A health informatics (HI) master’s degree or postbaccalaureate certificate program may be your next step.

HI degree graduates draw on a broad skill set, including prior medical experience, knowledge of IT and coding, and emotional intelligence. HI professionals ensure that software and computer technology remains up to date, but they also have a hand in designing electronic health record (EHR) systems and making sure that data is stored safely. They frequently play a role in training staff to use the systems they design. It's a diverse field, with professionals working in hospitals and other clinical settings as well as at insurance companies, research facilities and pharmaceutical labs.

While medical records and health information technicians earned a median salary of $40,350 in 2018,1 the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies health informatics under medical and health services managers, a more lucrative field.2 According to data compiled by Indeed in May 2020, starting salaries in the industry range from $69,009 for an informatics nurse to $123,455 for a data scientist.3

The Growing Need for Health Informatics

Although the need to store and organize health data has existed for decades, health informatics really took off as an industry when a key piece of Obama legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, made creating a national system of electronic health records a priority.4 With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that support became a mandate. By 2014, all medical practitioners in the United States were required to have EHR for the patients in their care.5

Although EHR are portable, accessible and immune from physical damage, they come with challenges. They are vulnerable to cyber attacks and system crashes. Information retrieval can be frustrating for both patients and clinical staff. The data has been collected, but in many cases, it is not stored in a way that allows doctors and research scientists to use it effectively.

Health informatics professionals are tasked with classifying and organizing large amounts of data. The industry integrates healthcare science with computer science, information science and cognitive science. By improving access to data, health informatics professionals have made it possible to track diseases more effectively, evaluate hospital quality, analyze broad healthcare trends, and provide insights to individual doctors seeking to adjust treatment plans. The industry is poised to grow by 18 percent over the next decade, fueled by an aging population and the need to get ahead of the next global pandemic.6

If you want to be a part of the fast-growing health informatics industry, you can earn a master's degree in Health Informatics or go through a shorter certification program.

Getting a Master's Degree in Health Informatics

A master's degree in health informatics can help you advance into managerial positions. You’ll take courses focused on legal issues and medical ethics, health records management, human factors and usability, clinical analytics, and standardized terminologies in healthcare. You'll pursue exciting electives that teach you how to perform data analytics and industry research, and you'll develop the change management and project management skills you need to step into leadership roles.

The master's curriculum includes the opportunity for advanced research in a specialized area of health informatics. You also have the option of completing an internship in a clinical setting to give you hands-on knowledge about the healthcare system, which is especially helpful for those coming to health informatics with an IT background. That internship can be part of your culminating master's project.

A master's degree in health informatics is best suited to individuals who:

  • Work in healthcare but need the IT skills to advance in this integrated field
  • Work in IT and need to acquire the requisite medical knowledge
  • Already know the basics and want to position themselves for a managerial position in a particular HI niche
  • Have the time and resources to devote to the coursework

Getting a Certificate in Health Informatics

The postbaccalaureate certificate program in health informatics is designed to teach students basic information about health informatics systems and management, which are the two foundational courses of the degree program. If you already have an advanced degree in business, IT, or healthcare, the additional coursework in this program gives you the opportunity to round out your skill set. IT professionals learn more about public health, including the opportunity to complete an internship in a clinical setting. Healthcare professionals can broaden their understanding of research procedures and data analytics.

You can use the certificate coursework as the foundation of a master's in health informatics if you want to pursue that option in the future. Kent State’s program, for instance, will let you transfer your credits into a master's degree program.

You may be better served by a certificate program in health informatics if the following is true:

  • You are unsure whether you want to commit to a career in health informatics and would like to learn more
  • You are looking to pivot into healthcare management with an MBA in hand but need to learn more about the healthcare field
  • You are already working in an HI position and want to boost your resume
  • You are seeking a job in health informatics but not looking for a managerial position

Kent State Offers a Master's Degree and Certificate Program in Health Informatics

Pursuing an online master's degree or postbaccalaureate certificate in Health Informatics at Kent State University is the first step to a rewarding career at the forefront of healthcare. By designing robust systems to store, organize and retrieve medical data, you’ll enable physicians and nurses to fine-tune diagnostics and treatment, and provide research scientists with essential information.