One of the questions I have often been asked by friends wanting to become an Informatics Nurse is: What skills do I need to have or develop if I want to take on a Nursing Informatics job?
Being successful in the field of Nursing Informatics takes a combination of different skills, many of which a clinician already has, but many that he or she will still need to develop as well. Here is a run-down of some of the most important ones:
CLINICAL EXPERIENCE AND COMPETENCE
Clinical experience and competence is the base upon which a clinician’s effectiveness in the Informatics field stands. A nurse who transitions to the Informatics field must first of all have an adequate amount of clinical experience, preferably in a variety of settings, in order to be able to analyze and decide with confidence how certain technical functionality can be applied in the clinical setting. The Informatics nurse is often designated and expected to be the bridge between the clinical and technical world, and speak the language of each. It would be very difficult for an Informatics Nurse to “talk the talk” of clinicians, if he or she has never had sufficient clinical experience.
Without this base of experience, a nurse can only theorize and imagine the impact of technology at the bedside. This is not to say that some nurses with very little experience will not be successful in the Informatics field, because there are examples of such professionals, but they are rare and they have other skills and attributes that balance their lack of experience. However, for the vast majority, a solid background in the clinical setting (whether inpatient or ambulatory) helps ensure future success in the Informatics arena.
CRITICAL THINKING, ANALYSIS, AND PROBLEM-SOLVING
The unique value that a clinician brings to any Informatics project is his or her experience in patient care. Because of that, a clinician is expected to be able to think through problems or issues and analyze them based on this wealth of knowledge and experience. They are expected not only to understand and accept technical functionality, but to analyze and even sometimes question the validity of the functionality, in light of clinical workflows and patient safety.
While an Informatics Nurse may not be the most technically adept member of a project team, by the nature of the work he or she is expected to have some kind of technical aptitude. With a certain amount of training, experience, and understanding of how a certain functionality works, he or she should be able to analyze and offer suggestions to resolve issues or problems. As the liaison between the clinical end-users and the more technical members of the team, he or she is expected to be able to “wrap his or her head around” technical functionality and limitations. An Informatics Nurse is also expected to know how to use business productivity tools such as document-creation tools (for example, MS Word), spreadsheets, email systems, and project tracking tools, among others.
BUSINESS CORRESPONDENCE SKILLS
One of the things that an Informatics Nurse will need to do on a daily basis is write and answer emails. Clinicians must remember that business correspondence is different from personal correspondence, and take the necessary steps to learn the basics of business communication.
The main thing to remember with business correspondence is to always be professional. This may sound very easy and common-sense, but it is a business etiquette rule that many professionals break at one time or another. Being professional means that you are always careful with your email’s tone and avoid sarcasm at all cost. Never put in a business email anything that can be damaging when forwarded (intentionally or unintentionally). There are other helpful rules which you can find here and here, but I want to emphasize that you should also avoid writing in all capitals in email. Writing in all caps in email is generally considered shouting, and even when your intention was simply to emphasize a point, that may not be what comes across to the recipient(s).
As nurses and clinicians, we have most probably been taught in nursing school and learned in our work experience that interpersonal skills are some of the most important skills we can ever have, right up there with clinical competence. As nurses, we are trained and expected to care, not just perform procedures, create plans, or orders. The interpersonal skills that a clinician develops when dealing with patients and their families, as well the the other members of the healthcare team, are very useful and highly portable into the Informatics arena.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS
As I mentioned in another post, project management skills are important in any Nursing Informatics role. It does not matter whether your title has the phrase “project management” in it or not – at some point you will be called on to manage projects big and small.
Fortunately, the Project Management process is very similar to the Nursing Process. The main difference is most probably in the tools being used – while nurses use the care planning tools and methods to initiate, execute, and evaluate a plan of care, Informatics Nursing professionals may use a variety of business productivity tools to perform the same process.