Workforce Development

Exploring Nursing Career Opportunities in the Field of Informatics

Advancing nursing career in informatics

Tammy KwiatkoskiAs the continuum of care expands well beyond the walls of the hospital and innovation rapidly changes how and where we practice, there are more and more opportunities for nursing careers to expand and specialize—particularly in the field of nursing informatics.

Nurse informaticists speak both clinical and technical languages—vital to understanding how virtual care, mobile devices, predictive analytics, machine learning and other emerging technologies can be applied in healthcare. Continuing education can keep nurse informaticists up to date with the pace of technology, helping them lead the way in innovating for high-quality patient care through efficient management of data and technical systems.

Data from the HIMSS Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey shows that the industry and the career opportunities within continue to grow year over year. In terms of respondents’ clinical experience prior to becoming a nurse informaticist, 25% indicated they had six to 10 years of experience. While a third of respondents reported having more than 10 years of experience in nursing informatics, the percent with less than a year of experience in nursing informatics increased from 8% to 14% over three years.

To learn more about this ever-changing field, we asked nurse informaticists from across the industry to tell us about their nursing careers—here’s what we learned.

Sangeeta Agarawal, RN, MS

Sangeeta Agarawal, RN, MS
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Helpsy, Inc., HIMSS NursePitch Winner

How did you become interested in your current role?

As a nurse, I saw many complications that could have been avoided if patients had easier access to much needed information and access to healthcare professionals, especially when they were at home by themselves. When someone is having a health issue, we’re hyper-focused on addressing the physical aspect. However, there are a lot of other social determinants of health—such as emotional and social issues, feeling lost and lonely—affecting the treatments. There were many gaps in the care that patients were receiving, resulting in financial toxicity, depression and opting out of treatments due to lack of information.

I would see people hurting for things for which I knew there were answers. Therefore, I started doing research to develop symptom management and quality of life protocols. I received a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to research more on the topic and I joined an entrepreneurship accelerator at a university to figure out how to build a commercial company out of the research. In 2016, I founded Helpsy Health, a virtual “whole-health nurse” platform for practitioners.

What does a normal day look like in your current role? How is health information and technology incorporated into your work?

In my role as the founder and CEO, I help set the goals and strategy of the company. Then, my day is mostly spent working with the team on a day-to-day basis to deliver on those goals. I try to stay focused and close to our mission and vision, which is to empower people to live life to the fullest. This includes making patients’ lives better, ensuring our customers and clients are satisfied, and taking good care of our own team members.

I think health information and technology is incorporated closely to my work. Nowadays, people have their phones at all times, which serves as a good platform to get information across. My company provides patients with local resources and continuous support through the mobile app. As a result, patients are able to access information and receive the follow-up care that they need without having to physically be at healthcare centers.

As a nurse, it is important to be knowledgeable in leveraging the rapidly evolving technology to empower us to be able to do more with our time and empower patients with multitudes of tools and resources so they can take better care of themselves.

For those interested in this nursing career, what education and certifications should they pursue?

There are many options that you can choose from when pursuing a career in nursing. Nurses work across all different spectrums and stages (i.e., technology, policy, clinical care, etc.) and are able to make a significant impact.

There are many degrees and pathways in pursuing a nursing career. For professional certification, nursing professionals need to hold a license. The required license and education vary by state. Although you can step into the nursing career with an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree will allow you to pursue a deeper and more advanced career in nursing.

Aside from that, take advantage of the courses offered by academic institutes and professional organizations such as HIMSS that support in technology and innovation advancements. HIMSS has their Nursing Informatics Community which can be a great resource. They also have many great initiatives such as the NursePitch competition which showcases nurses’ innovations, which can be a great place of learning.

What advice do you have for those interested in this role?

Identify your strengths and find your calling. As a nurse, you directly see the challenges your patients go through. If there is something that you are passionate about, go for it! The skills you learned as a nurse are transferable, so use it as your foundation. Do not let society impressions or pushbacks hold you back and continue to reiterate your plans until you reach the goal. Collaborate with people who are as passionate and find support in nursing communities, such as the HIMSS Nursing Informatics Community, American Nursing Association, the Oncology Nursing Society, etc.

When transitioning into non-traditional nursing roles, be proactive and listen. If you think you don’t have enough knowledge, I encourage you to gain the experience you need. Invest your time to gain more experience and knowledge. Participate in conferences, learn from fellow nurses, advocates and mentors, and make space where you can’t find space! If you see a need for a community that does not exist, make it happen. If you see a community lacking nurses or patient advocates, ask for a seat at the table. Do not be afraid to make a wave of change.

What inspires you to do this work?

The patients inspire me the most: their strength, hope and persistence to carry on with their health journey despite adversaries inspire me to wake up and do work, knowing that my work has the capability to improve someone’s life. I also find inspiration through my fellow nurses, colleagues and researchers who have built entire new fields of care and protocols that have brought new waves of innovation to nursing and healthcare.

Moreover, growing up, my two role models were Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa. Both are compassionate and committed to serving those in need. Nursing resonated with my own principles of providing continual care and whole-health wellness to enable patients live their life to fullest. Nurses lead by serving and advocating for their patients. They are also innovators by nature: When met with challenges, they will strive to figure out a way while keeping patients’ needs at the forefront.

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Sherri Hess, MS-IS, BSN, RN-BS, FHIMSSSherri Hess, MS-IS, BSN, RN-BS, FHIMSS
Chief Nursing Informatics Officer, Banner Health, a HIMSS Nursing Informatics Community Member

How did you become interested in your current role?

In the mid-90s, I was researching what master’s degree would give me an opportunity to work from home, a career path with unlimited opportunities and the ability to increase my earning capabilities, I selected a Masters of Information Systems (MS-IS). After graduating in 2000, I spent seven years developing EHRs at McKesson. My passion was to lead the technology strategy at a health system. Over the next few years, I led multiple EHR and technology implementations in the Denver area. I also led teams that supported over 200 clinical applications.

When I graduated with my MS-IS, I did not say, ‘I want to be a chief nursing informatics officer,” I am not sure when I even learned of the role. As I became more aware of an executive role of a nurse who was proficient in technology, workflows and outcomes, I gravitated towards that type of role and actually created them at a couple health systems.

If you have passion in an area and there isn’t a role, then create it! Prove your ability to deliver on the outcomes.

What does a normal day look like in your current role? How is health information and technology incorporated into your work?

With our current times, my day is on multiple video conference calls. I do take time to round at our hospitals with our staff. From a high level, the focus is on opportunities to improve efficiency for our clinical teams. Especially now when we are in unprecedented times and the stress at the bedside is at an all-time high. Major focus on improving the safety and quality outcomes for our customers and patients. When I’m not working on strategy, there are projects in flight, new hospital opening and acquisitions. A major focus is on data and outcomes from the technology that has been implemented.

Health information and technology is engrained in all we do. Technology is not on its own island—it’s a combination of people, process and technology. Many times folks look to technology to fix all the problems. There are times it will not solve the issue and cause more issues. The key is to not focus on the technology to start, but the problem that needs to be solved.

I spend many hours over a month collaborating with other chief nursing informatics officers (CNIO) and am involved in multiple societies.

For those interested in this nursing career, what education and certifications should they pursue?

Minimally, you need a master’s degree that compliments your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). As far as certifications, Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC) through American Nurses Credentialing Center. I would also recommend the HIMSS Fellow membership.

What advice do you have for those interested in this role?

Find a mentor, get involved in one or more societies like HIMSS, the American Nursing Informatics Association, or American Medical Informatics Association, set goals of where you plan to be in one, five, 10 years. Networking is the key with colleagues at other health systems and vendors. If there aren’t networks to get involved in your area create them.

Minimally, you will need experience with technology, I found my degree provided me the ability to speak a second language—technology, the first was clinical. I would recommend you get involved in implementations, be a super user, and leadership skills are a must.

If you work at an organization that doesn’t have a CNIO, advocate and write the job description and sell it to leadership. Especially if there is a chief medical informatics officer and no CNIO.

According to Becker’s, only 14% of hospitals have CNIOs. I have seen this continue to increase over the past couple years as the role continues to morph into more innovative work and data outcomes.

Publish, volunteer to speak and get your name out there. The key is to differentiate yourself from other candidates. I also teach graduate school at a university.

What inspires you to do this work?

I love the ability to improve efficiencies for our nurses and clinical staff at the bedside. Seeing improved outcomes in quality and safety and knowing you’re making a difference. I love a challenge and a great leader of mine once asked me if I ever take no for an answer. I said “I guess not!” When you know what path is needed, build a business plan, sell it to the executive team along with multiple other leaders. While it seems simple, it can take years with multiple competing priorities.

I strive to push the limits with our vendors if they have features or functionalities that would improve efficiency and care. Neither of us are successful if we aren’t collaborating and working as partners.

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." – George Bernard Shaw

 

Sean Michaels, MBA-HCA, MSN, RN, CPHIMS, CHCIOSean Michaels, MBA-HCA, MSN, RN, CPHIMS, CHCIO
Vice President of IT Operations & Service Delivery, Health First, Inc.; a HIMSS Nursing Informatics Task Force Member and Nursing Informatics Community Member

How did you become interested in your current role?

My interest in this role came from the desire to help.

As a nurse, I worked in the float pool at our organization and cared for patients in various clinical settings. To be successful in a role that was rooted in change, I focused on the constants. The first constant for me was the person for whom I was caring. Despite the type of unit or time of day (shift) that I worked, there was always a person who needed care.

The second major constant for me was the EMR. I learned to master the EMR so that it became a tool that enabled my ability to provide care. This ultimately led to me into the world of Informatics. When I joined the informatics team, I quickly learned that the technical teams in IT do phenomenal work, but did not understand the clinical world. I again focused on the constants. I saw how much the IT teams wanted to help and was able to serve as a “bridge” for folks to gain a better understanding of the clinical world and the amazing opportunities that they have to positively impact clinicians’ ability to provide care.

What does a normal day look like in your current role? How is health information and technology incorporated into your work?

Ha! What is “normal”?

From a high-level my days consist of meetings, presentations, planning, phone calls and emails. The one constant that exists in my “normal” day is the ability to help the teams do what they do best. Ensuring that the vision and strategy align with the direction of the organization and can support our pivot towards a digitally enabled well-care environment. With respect to how much health information and technology is incorporated into my work, I would say that it is ingrained into every aspect. This is based on a belief that technology is a vehicle by which health information travels.

For those interested in this nursing career, what education and certifications should they pursue?

I began with an associate’s degree and continued on for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and then a Master of Science in Nursing Informatics. I am currently enrolled in a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

My advice for someone wanting to get started in nursing is to get educated and get started. Experience is something that will allow you to apply the things you learn from formal education. For me it was the exposure to the various clinical settings that allowed me to understand variations and similarities in workflow. This was a key component in ensuring that EMR enhancement and changes were aligned with what the clinicians did. If something is designed in a manner that makes perfect “technical” sense, but does not fit into a clinician’s workflow, the chances of successful adoption diminishes. If informatics is something that someone is interested in, then HIMSS offers certification options that are great to allow an individual to demonstrate their understanding of the health information and technology landscape.

What advice do you have for those interested in this role?

Get started in nursing and find a way to help anytime there is a technology need. Most initiatives need a “super-user” or bedside clinician to give insight while championing the change and then teaching others. Continue to learn, grow and say yes to new opportunities that present themselves for you to help more.

What inspires you to do this work?

The ability to help those who help and care for others. I enjoy enabling care through technology and being the voice of the clinician.

 

Angela Wilson-Vanmeter, DNP, MS, RN, CPHIMS
Director, Nursing Informatics, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center & James Cancer Hospital; a HIMSS Nursing Informatics Community Member

How did you become interested in your current role?

During my background in neonatal intensive care at a large academic medical center, our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was using paper documentation tools.

I was always interested in any technology that would help improve safety and efficiency when delivering care. I participated in training physicians when we moved to computerized physician order entry. A few years later, our unit was selected as a beta site to test an EMR system. I jumped at the opportunity to help out with this project and it was that project that changed the trajectory of my career. I was able to work with a nurse informaticist, the vendor, and IT leaders and analysts. It was fascinating to see the multidisciplinary approach to the change management process unfold.

When our organization made the final decision a few years later to go with a single EMR platform for our entire organization, I knew it would be a game changer for not only our staff, but for our patients and community. Working on the beta project was the seed that was planted for a path leading to nursing informatics and allowed me to develop relationships with a multitude of disciplines, gain health IT knowledge from those professionals, and pass that knowledge down to others. I believe you’re in the right place at the right time for a reason!

What does a normal day look like in your current role? How is health information and technology incorporated into your work?

COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of my normal day, but it is slowly getting back to “normalcy.” My normal day is comprised of standing meetings that are related to ongoing projects’ go-live status, which I facilitate. At any given time, I may be juggling three to four large projects, while day-to-day operations include facilitating and attending a variety of stakeholder meetings that impact our clinicians’ use of technology and patient outcomes, and since March, assisting staff in our COVID-19 call center.

For those interested in this nursing career, what education and certifications should they pursue?

I would encourage anyone interested in nursing informatics as a career path to enroll in a graduate-level nursing informatics course at minimum and if possible, a Masters in Nursing Informatics. I believe it is essential to become certified in informatics whether that be through American Nurses Credentialing Center or HIMSS.

What advice do you have for those interested in this role?

Build relationships! If there is someone you know in the role, I would share your interest in nursing informatics and ask to shadow the individual on a regular basis and seek mentorship from either that individual, or someone else you may know in nursing informatics that you hold in high esteem.

Get involved in both internal committees at your organization as well as health IT professional organizations such as HIMSS, the American Nursing Informatics Association and any local informatics chapters in your area. If you’re at an organization using an EMR, likely, you will have access to their website and a plethora of industry standards. Stay abreast of health IT by visiting health.gov.

What inspires you to do this work?

It inspires me to know that the work done to provide safe, effective health IT is in collaboration with a multidisciplinary care team. It is specifically rewarding when the direct care staff can see the fruits of their multidisciplinary work when the health IT project or enhancement is implemented.

I am inspired to deliver a safe, efficient and effective product to our end-users which includes our healthcare consumers who both are impacted by the technology we use to deliver care as well as the technology we put in the hands of our patients.

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