Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Informatics Education: A Final Common Pathway

As readers of this blog know from my other writings, the field of biomedical and health informatics is heterogeneous and diverse. The types of jobs performed by informaticians range from the highly technical to those that are more people and organizational in nature. The entire spectrum is vitally important. A unifying common element of these jobs is that they are somehow related to the use of information, often aided by technology, to improve individual health, health care, public health, and biomedical research.

I am also delighted to report that US News & World Report still considers informatics be one of its "ahead of the curve" careers. There is a Web page devoted to it, where I recently posted a comment.
As any director of an informatics education program can tell you, teaching informatics is a challenge. You have physicians, other health care professionals, computer scientists, health information managers, and many others sitting (virtually and in classrooms) alongside each other. Furthermore, many are adult learners, already having completed their primary education and often having substantial work experience.

Of course, educating such a diverse group can also be a real joy. Most of these individuals are very smart and highly motivated. I learn a great deal from them, and they require me to keep a step ahead in my knowledge.

Because of all this, I think of informatics education as a "final common pathway" for many individuals who bring diverse backgrounds, interests, and talents to the field. Such individuals will be uniquely qualified to develop, implement, and lead health IT, especially in the coming years.

It is hard to fathom this education not taking place at the graduate level. I recognize there are growing numbers of community college and undergraduate programs in informatics, but I tend to view these as one of the many pathways leading to that final common one. Most of the associate and baccalaureate programs in informatics are really IT programs with some health-related content added. This does not mean they cannot be of value to individuals or make contributions in health care settings, but such individuals are not likely to "practice" informatics as we normally define it.

I suspect that the informatics profession and its education will become more standardized in the coming years, especially as we see certification of individuals, with the commensurate accreditation of programs.