Essential Skills Needed By an Informatics Nurse

Being successful in the field of Nursing Informatics takes a combination of different skills.  Clinicians already have many of these skills, but there are several that she or he will still need to develop as well.  Here is a run-down of some of the most important ones:

CLINICAL EXPERIENCE AND COMPETENCE

Clinical or Patient Care experience is the foundation of a clinician’s effectiveness in the Nursing Informatics specialty. A nurse who transitions to the Informatics field must first of all have an adequate amount of clinical experience 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 fluently. It would be very difficult for an Informatics Nurse to “talk the talk” of clinicians if he or she has not 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. However, those nurses are rare and they have other skills and knowledge that balance their lack of clinical experience. For the vast majority, a solid background in the clinical setting, and competence in the basics of the related workflows can help ensure future success in the Nursing Informatics arena.

CRITICAL THINKING, ANALYSIS, AND PROBLEM-SOLVING

The unique value that a clinician brings to any Nursing Informatics role 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 just to understand and accept technical functionality and workflows, but to analyze and even sometimes question or test the effectiveness of a proposed/existing functionality and workflow in light of their knowledge of clinical workflows, best practices, and regulatory standards.

TECHNICAL/COMPUTER SKILLS

While an Informatics Nurse may not be the technical expert in a project team, by the nature of the work she or he is expected to have some kind of technical aptitude. Informatics nurses should be able to perform their own analysis and offer suggestions to resolve issues, and this is more effective when they have a certain amount of training, experience, and understanding of how certain technical functionality work. As the liaison between the clinical end-users and the more technical members of the team, informatics nurses are expected to be able to wrap their head around technical functionality and limitations. They are also expected to know how to use business productivity tools such as document-creation software, 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 always being careful with an email’s tone, and to aim to be respectful and cordial even in stressful or emotionally charged situations. One rule of thumb is to never put in a business email anything that can be damaging when forwarded, either intentionally or unintentionally. This also includes avoiding sarcasm as much as possible, because on email it is often very difficult to identify this communication mode, and it can often be misunderstood and taken literally. Avoid writing in all capitals, which in email is generally considered shouting – even when the intention was simply to emphasize a point, because that may not be what comes across to the recipient(s).

There are other helpful rules which you can find here and here.

INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

From nursing school, most nurses are taught that interpersonal skills are some of the most important skills clinicians can have, right up there with clinical competence. Nurses are trained and expected to care, not just perform procedures, create plans, or implement 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 Nursing Informatics field. This includes the ability to listen actively and with empathy, collaborate proactively, and negotiate assertively.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Project Management skills are important in any Nursing Informatics role. Even if the job title does not have the phrase “project manager” in it, at some point most Informatics Nurses will be called on to participate or maybe even lead some type of project. Having project management knowledge and skills will be advantageous for nurses, whether they are a team member or a team lead.

Fortunately, the Project Management process is similar to the Nursing Process in some ways. Take some time to familiarize yourself with basic Project Management concepts such as the 5 phases of project management (conception and initiation, planning, execution, performance/monitoring, and project close) and try to volunteer to be involved projects even while you are still working in the clinical area.

(This post was originally published in March 2012, and is occasionally updated.  Last update: June 2022)

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