Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Professional Science Masters: The Direction for Masters-Level Professional Degrees in Informatics?

This week, the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is hosting a regional workshop focused on Professional Science Masters (PSM) degrees and programs. While attendees will come from across the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon University System (OUS) is moving forward with development of a statewide program. We are interested in exploring whether our Master of Biomedical Informatics (MBI) might fit the bill to transform into a PSM. For more information on what a PSM is, see their Web site.

PSM programs are professional science degrees with three additional attributes:
  1. "Plus" courses that provide the student skills for working in industry settings, such as business and management, writing and communications, and others
  2. A rigorous internship program that replaces the traditional master's thesis or capstone
  3. Guidance by an external advisory committee from industry that oversee the curriculum and/or participate in the internship program
DMICE offers graduate-level programs in the field of biomedical informatics. Although we are not formally a PSM, our existing programs, especially our MBI degree, have many of the attributes required of a PSM, namely the "plus" courses, an internship program, and an external advisory committee. We changed an MBI program requirement last year that allows a structured internship to be acceptable as the program capstone.

We were actually exploring the PSM option when the large amount of funding from American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for investment in health information technology came along and sidetracked these efforts. Of course, our Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) University-Based Training (UBT) grant has many conceptual overlaps with the PSM concept, with its goal of producing informatics professionals who will develop, implement, and lead electronic health record (EHR) adoption in healthcare settings.

Of course, our informatics program is focused on more than EHR adoption, even though that is the largest need. But there are plenty of other critical needs for informatics in health and biomedicine, including in genomics, clinical and translational research, public health, consumer health, and even other clinical applications, such as telemedicine. As the UBT program reaches a steady state, and with it winding down in 2013, we are now reconsidering again the transformation of the program to an official PSM. This week's workshop will help inform our next steps.

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