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How to Become a Healthcare Data Scientist

November 26, 2019
Scientist In Lab Reviewing Data On Clipboard

Maybe you have spent your career working in healthcare and are interested in shifting directions to put your analytical skills to the test. Or perhaps you have a solid background in analytics and data analysis and you're looking to find the right field where you can apply your skills in a meaningful way. In either case, you should consider whether becoming a healthcare data scientist would be right for you.

What does it mean to be a data scientist?

The introduction of big data and methods to harness the power of big data have led to rapid and considerable changes in many different industries. With the vast amounts of data available today, there is significant demand for professionals who can sort through and process the data to solve problems, observe patterns, and interpret the data in countless useful ways.

Data scientists fill that need. They help gather the data, analyze the data and present their findings in a way that others can easily understand.1

What role does big data play in healthcare?

Big data has revolutionized the healthcare industry in numerous ways—from the patient experience to the functionality of organizations to the long-term health of populations at large.2 Wearable health monitors and biointegrated sensors give doctors more information on their patients than ever before, helping monitor symptoms and overall patient health. The data that can be gathered from populations on a larger scale and can also help find solutions to major public health issues. Information gleaned from this data helps with developing new, personalized hardware and treatment plans for patients. It can be used to identify areas to reduce cost and increase efficiency, and it provides potential solutions to privacy concerns.

(For more detailed information on how big data is changing the face of healthcare, read our blog on big data in healthcare.)

What does it take to succeed as a healthcare data scientist?

Being a healthcare data scientist requires many of the same strengths that are essential for any data scientist career path, including:1

  • Unquenchable curiosity
  • Analytical mind
  • Organizational skills
  • Persistence (to the point of stubbornness)
  • Creativity
  • Focus
  • Extreme eye for detail

For the right person, being a healthcare data scientist is an incredibly fulfilling career. You'll face and overcome complicated problems and have the satisfaction of knowing that your solutions are making life measurably better for other people.

Becoming a healthcare data scientist

Data science isn't a "one-size-fits-all" field. Instead, every position is different, and because demand exists for data scientists across all areas of healthcare, these positions can have greatly varied skills.3 Rather than develop a generic, scripted skillset, it's important to build a broad foundation of skills and then build upon it based on your personal areas of interest and professional strengths. A good education should provide you with core skills as well as opportunities to pursue your preferred focus.

To get a job as a healthcare data scientist, you will need a strong academic background. Seventy-three percent of data scientists have graduate degrees,1 so if you want to be competitive and have a chance at progressing further in your healthcare data career, you should be prepared to get at least a master's degree.

  • Start with a bachelor's degree. Consider getting a degree in IT, computer science, math, physics or a related field to build a good foundation for your future career.1 Very few data scientist positions are available with only a bachelor's degree, but it's still important to begin your academic career building these strengths.
  • Earn a master's degree in a data-centric field .1 Ideally, find a degree program that focuses on both healthcare and data.
  • Develop the skills you need to succeed. According to a March 2019 study of healthcare data scientist job postings, the most commonly required skills were statistics, the programming language R, machine learning, storytelling, and Python.3 Many of the requested skills are "softer" skills that involve communicating results clearly. You do need the technical background, but this field is more than just plugging in numbers. You have to be equally comfortable working with data and communicating the results of that data to others.

One of the most important steps toward becoming a healthcare data scientist is earning an advanced degree that will give you the skills and expertise you need to succeed. An online Master of Science in Health Informatics degree or a Postbaccalaureate Certificate from Kent State University gives you an understanding of how technology and healthcare intersect — and how you can fill that niche.