The growing demand for health informatics professionals is prompting some people to explore the feasibility of switching careers. They see opportunity in the IT staff shortages plaguing health care and the openings for analytics professionals in clinical settings, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. Unfortunately, how to gain access to those opportunities is not always clear. There are master’s degrees in health data science, health analytics, medical management and health IT that can lead to careers in information technology and information management in health care settings. However, the Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) is the only academic pathway focused entirely on the intersection of health care, business management and technology.
That doesn’t mean enrolling in a traditional or online MSHI program is the right move. Career changers looking at Master of Science in Health Informatics programs have to do more than calculate the ROI of the MSHI. Weighing the costs and benefits of this degree is an essential step on a career changer’s journey but only a first step. Career changers must also consider whether a health informatics master’s will support their professional ambitions. Answering that question involves not only looking at typical career outcomes of MSHI graduates but also the kinds of experience students in traditional and online master’s in health informatics programs typically have.
One way to assess whether a program such as the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences‘ 36-credit hour online Master of Science in Health Informatics is the right one for you is to look at the people in it. You will quickly discover that some degree pathways have more to offer career changers than others.
Students enroll in traditional and online master’s in health informatics programs for several reasons.
Some invest in graduate school because they hope a master’s degree will increase their earning potential. These students discover that employers are willing to pay informaticists with advanced degrees more. PayScale reports that having a bachelor’s degree in health informatics correlates with average salaries of about $61,000. In comparison, MSHI holders earn closer to $73,000. Health care professionals in top-paying informatics jobs often held by master’s program graduates can earn well over $100,000.
Others study health informatics online because they want to gain new skills by tackling coursework related to health care technology, business management, health data analysis, health administration and organizational leadership. These students graduate equipped to transition into medical informatics careers or leverage the power of health care data in administrative and managerial roles.
Still other students pursue master’s degrees in health informatics because they want to advance more quickly. Informatics, health analytics, data management and medical management skills are in demand. Having those skills lets professionals in health care administration and analytics roles compete for more senior positions—even in states with a surplus of workers.
There are also MSHI candidates who study health care informatics because they’re excited by the ways informatics is improving patient care and transforming medicine. They want to become a part of this discipline to help make health care more efficient, affordable and effective.
MSHI admission requirements vary by institution. Pitt’s online master’s in health informatics degree program welcomes applicants from all educational and professional backgrounds. Many MSHI candidates come from fields such as health and rehabilitation sciences, health information management, information science, computer science, biology, business management or clinical medicine. Still, some enter the program with little or no health care, business or technology experience. These career-changers include:
Business and technology professionals entering the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ online MSHI program may have management or analytics experience but have never worked in demanding health care environments. Core courses such as Anatomy, Physiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmacology and Medical Terminology; Health Vocabulary, Terminology and Classification Systems; Health Information and the Health Care System; and Digital Health give them the skills they need to transition into health care.
Students with health care administration experience typically enroll in Pitt’s online master’s in health informatics program because they want to earn a higher salary, gain stability or explore career paths in health or biomedical informatics. They understand how health care environments differ from other business environments but learn highly marketable technical skills in courses such as Practical Statistics & Programming Using Python and R; Foundations of Health Informatics; and Data Analytics and Machine Learning in Health Science.
While some people thrive in intense clinical care settings, burnout is common among frontline health care providers. Some career changers in Pitt’s online master’s in health informatics program are doctors, specialists and nurses who don’t want to leave medicine but would prefer to work in roles with more regular hours, less stress and remote work opportunities. They gain the skills they need to make that change in informatics courses and core classes such as Practical Research and Evaluation Methods; Financial Management and Health Care Reimbursement; and Security, Privacy, Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Information Systems.
Some RNs seeking less physically and emotionally demanding work look for opportunities in nursing informatics and leadership. They understand that having well-developed clinical skills isn’t all it takes to advance into administrative and information management roles in medicine. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the MSHI program gain the skills they need to transition into informatics and leadership positions in courses such as Health Information and the Health Care System; Financial Management and Health Care Reimbursement; Leadership and Project Management; and Talent Management and Human Resources.
The health care industry generates thousands of exabytes of data each year and that data has the potential to make medicine better and safer. Some MSHI candidates are inspired to switch gears and work in health data analysis because they are excited to join a relatively new and evolving field. Whether they come from clinical, tech or business backgrounds, they learn fundamentals of biostatistics, data mining and decision support in medical settings in courses such as Data Science in Health Informatics; Digital Health; and Database Design and Big Data Analytics.
There are numerous career opportunities in informatics. Some, such as health informatics director and Chief Medical Information Officer, are only open to informaticists with years of work experience in addition to advanced credentials. Many others are open to career changers, provided they have the requisite technical skills.
Clinical data managers collect, organize, analyze and archive data generated by scientific projects such as clinical trials and epidemiology research.
Clinical informatics specialists analyze operational data, claims and billing data and data generated during clinical care to drive quality improvement in facility operations and patient care.
Data quality assurance managers set data quality objectives, create data quality protocols and participate in data governance practices to ensure there’s always high-quality data available.
Health data scientists build systems that clean, convert and analyze clinical, operational and research data to support organizational and clinical decision-making.
Health informatics consultants help health care organizations and patient care facilities implement and optimize informatics systems and processes on a contract basis.
HIM project managers oversee information management projects for health care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and medical device manufacturers.
Privacy officers ensure database systems and computer networks adhere to current HIPAA guidelines and other rules and regulations surrounding patient privacy.
Pitt’s 100% online degree program in health informatics offers a transformative, forward-thinking learning experience online students can complete without leaving the workforce. “We understand that students typically have full-time jobs and we are able to accommodate their schedules,” Valerie Watzlaf, Vice Chair of Education and Associate Professor in Pitt’s Department of Health Information Management explained in a recent interview. “All of our faculty are flexible and are there for their students.”
Students in Pitt’s online master’s in health informatics program hone a range of interdisciplinary competencies related to health care information management, electronic health records management, health care delivery and the business of medicine. For instance, they learn to assess important metrics like access, quality of care, clinical outcomes, cost, patient satisfaction and engagement in complex health care systems. They have the technical skills necessary to choose or develop data-driven digital health solutions to address specific health delivery, clinical research or health administration challenges. Their data analytics skills are exceptional. Graduates can collect and clean data using various health-focused programs, organize and analyze large data sets and interpret results to support clinical and business decision-making. Additionally, they understand the unique security, privacy, legal and ethical concerns surrounding patient data, health IT systems and digital medical record keeping.
Pitt’s part-time MSHI students also exit the program conscious of the many professional opportunities and specializations open to them in health administration, population health and biomedical informatics. According to health informatics master’s candidate Sam Viggiano, whose background includes financial administration, speech pathology and music, students learn about professional pathways throughout the online program. “In a semester, you are already exposed to a variety of jobs available in the health informatics field,” he said, adding that “each class exposes you to prospective jobs and begins training you for that position.”
To answer this question, consider what drives you. Physical therapist Laxmi Velankar looked at the degree pathways before her and decided to pursue an MSHI but not transition into informatics. She was motivated to join Pitt’s program because she saw how health services disparities affected her patients.
“It’s just frustrating when you think, ‘Wait a minute, why is this not covered? Why did this not work out the way we planned?'” Velankar said. “I’m constantly busy providing therapy services, so I have to move on—but, at some point, you realize, ‘I need to get to the bottom of this. I need to know why this didn’t work.’ I spent some time exploring my options. A Master of Science in Health Informatics touches health care and health information technology; it captures the data in health care. I knew I was interested in pursuing quality improvement in the health care industry. All indicators pointed to a health informatics program.”
On the other hand, Pitt MSHI candidate Julie Rose Lechliter found her way to the program via a career in health administration and does plan to transition into informatics. “As I’ve advanced along the management path in my current job,” Lechliter said, “I found that the thing that most excites me is patient safety. It’s so critical, but there’s not a ton I can do about it in my current position. I certainly do as much training as possible, and I make sure I’m doing the right things, but I feel like there’s more work to be done.”
Like Velankar and Lechliter, you should examine your motivations for researching the health informatics master’s program before committing to a course of study. An MSHI program can give you the skills and credentials to launch a new career in informatics or excel on your current path by incorporating informatics skills into your professional toolkit. However, only you can decide whether those skills will ultimately support your career ambitions.
Learn more about the University of Pittsburgh’s MSHI tracks, the world-class faculty members and MSHI job opportunities at an upcoming online event. Or apply to the online Master of Science in Health Informatics program now and in less than two years, you’ll have the skills, knowledge and credentials to transition into a new career.