After I have been asked numerous times by friends and peers on how to effectively transition to the field of Nursing Informatics, I turned to the web for some guidance. What I found, for the most part, were forums in which nurses asked the same questions as well.
Most of the answers came as personal anecdotes from other nurses who have made the transition. I noted that there were many similarities in their career paths as well as with my own. There were a lot of variations as well. Some volunteered for informatics-related responsibilities, like I did, while others had the role handed to them by management. Some decided to pursue a graduate degree while others earned an informatics or project management-related certification, and still others did both.
This is my first attempt to summarize what I gleaned from that informal online research. This also includes information culled from my own experience and that of my peers. As such, it may change as I update it with new information. The items listed are not ordered by priority nor effectiveness. The goal of this list is simply to provide those interested with twelve possible ways to transition to Nursing Informatics. Please note that the links I am providing here are meant to be resources, and not endorsements of any particular book, group, organization, school, or conference.
Please also note that I have not dubbed these steps “simple” or “easy” – most of them involve a set of preparatory steps, and many of them are complicated and may take significant time and energy. Please consider these steps/ways/tips as guidelines which are intended to help you take that first in the transition. I also want to give you a sense of what other nurses, with motivation and planning, were able to accomplish. Good luck!
1. Learn more about the field. This means reading up on what it encompasses, and what roles you can potentially have. Get more information from such websites as HIMSS and ANIA-CARING. Read forums discussing Nursing Informatics such as the one in allnurses.com. Caveat: when reading online forums, please remember that the opinions given by members are just that – opinions – and and should not be mistaken for expert advice. Read about nursing informatics in books (usually textbooks, some of which are available in Amazon) as well journals (such as CIN).
2. Volunteer for an informatics-related role in your organization. This can be as a Superuser or Trainer/Educator if your facility is planning to implement a new system, or as a chart auditor if your EHR (electronic health record) or CIS (clinical information system) is already in place. In any case, you want to have a very thorough knowledge of information or documentation systems, either on the front-end (i.e. asSuperuser) or middle-space (i.e. as a chart auditor).
3. Join professional organizations. Professional organizations such as the above-mentioned HIMSS and ANIA-CARING link you up with professionals who are already working in the field of nursing informatics, as well as provide you with resources about this specialty. These professional organizations also organize webinars, conferences and classes that will expand your knowledge and understanding of the field.
4. Attend classes, conferences, webinars or workshops. These not only expand your knowledge but may potentially provide you with new skills, as well as provide a venue for you to network with other nursing informatics professionals. One of the biggest NI conferences is the Summer Institute in Nursing Informatics, held annually in Baltimore, Maryland. The Weekend Immersion in Nursing Informatics is a workshop/seminar-type mini-conference that takes place over an average of 3 days, and is held in different places in North America.
5. Interview nurses in the role that you are looking into doing. If you know an informatics nurse whether on a personal or professional capacity, then you have a valuable resource within reach. In my experience, most nurses are open to sharing their knowledge, experience, and expertise. Sometimes you just need to step out of your comfort zone and ask. Begin with simple questions such as how they got the role, and what their typical day is like. Find out what skills and training they got to be able to function effectively in their jobs. Keep an open mind and learn from someone who is already doing what you want to do.
6. Attain a certification. A certification is simply an affirmation that you have some specialized knowledge and/or skills. This can range from a project management certification from an organization such as PMI, or an EHR application from a vendor such as Epic. Once you have some nursing informatics experience under your belt, you can also obtain a Nursing Informatics certification from ANCC,
7. Pursue a related graduate degree. Because this entails a lot of commitment in terms of resources (time, finances, effort), this needs a lot of careful thought and planning. One of the more well-known Nursing Informatics programs is the one offered by the University of Maryland School of Nursing. The University of Illinois at Chicago has an online Health Informatics program and Duke University also offers a distance-based MSN Health Informatics Program that only requires 2 days on-campus two times during the program.
(Note: There are now many more Health Informatics and Nursing Informatics programs in 2015 than when I first wrote this in 2012.)
8. Network inside and outside your organization. Networking is not just for corporate- or marketing-type professionals anymore. If you want to grow professionally, you must make the effort to network – with the other nurses in your department/unit, with those in the other departments, and even outside your organization. You can achieve this by joining professional organizations and attending conferences, as previously mentioned. But you can also even do this by simply volunteering for projects within your unit/department, organization, or community. In doing so, you not only show that you are committed to the growth and improvement of the group/organization, you also expand your knowledge and your network.
9. Volunteer for different projects in your organization. This includes roles that will allow you to teach or support your peers, as well as improve quality and performance for your unit or department. While this is not strictly informatics-related, you will acquire skills in teaching, coordinating, managing, facilitating, and communicating, which are highly useful when you have a role in NI.
10. Learn a computer programming language or systems analysis. While this may sound a bit more difficult than some of the other steps, this skill actually comes in handy if you are interested in the analysis/build/validation side of Nursing Informatics, which is what a lot of EHR implementations need. Learning a computer language or sytems analysis, either by teaching yourself or going to class, gives you an idea of how computer logic works, and gives you confidence in collaborating with the more technical members of the team such as programmers.
11. Find a Nursing Informatics mentor. Once you come in contact and network with different Nursing Informatics professionals, you may want to find someone who will be able to guide you and inspire you as you grow in your chosen career.
12. Develop project management skills. For me, basic project management skills are a must-have for every Nurse Informaticist. Project management, as defined by Wikipedia, is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.
As clinicians, we already have the basic building blocks of project management, as it is very similar to the Nursing Process of Assessment, Diagnosis, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation that was hammered into most of us at nursing school, and is very similar to what we already do every day at work. If we liken a project to a clinical shift where we have a goal (for example, improvement of the patient’s health status) and a finite amount of resources (for example, there are only 12 hours in the shift, and there are only a certain number of staff who can help you take care of the patient) to manage in order to achieve that goal, then it becomes easier to see that, with training and experience, competent clinicians indeed have the potential to become effective projector managers. Project management knowledge and skills can be further developed by reading books, attending classes, and attaining the experience by getting involved in projects at work or in the community.