Once considered an "emerging" specialty, nursing informatics is today one of the most dynamic domains within the discipline of nursing. "At the crossroads of technology and patient care stand the nurses who have chosen nursing informatics (NI) as their specialty." NI is the specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice.
Translating Nursing Skills Into an NI Skill Set
There is a need for thousands of informatics nurses and many nurses are asking themselves: "How do I make the transition from clinical nursing to informatics nursing?" With the demand high there are organizations willing to hire nurses (with little or no previous NI experience) and provide the novice nurse informaticist the training needed to be successful in a variety of NI roles. The skills that make an excellent nurse easily translate into the skill set of an excellent informatics nurse.
Are you comfortable with ambiguity? Do have the ability to help other's manage change? Are you a good teacher, communicator, problem solver, interpreter, team player, leader?
"How do I get into nursing informatics?" This is the most-asked question I have received in my 15 years practicing in this specialty. Whether you've only been out of nursing school for a year, have never practiced in the hospital setting or you're a 20-year nursing veteran, you can get started in nursing informatics.
I don't recommend anyone going into NI without the basic foundational nursing clinical practice experience. The right mix of both clinical as well as technical skills makes for a good informatics nurse. Part of your effectiveness in a NI role will depend on your credibility as one who has practiced and knows where the end user - the clinician in the trenches - is coming from.
Learning and Job Searching
First recommendation: learn as much as you can about the specialty of nursing informatics. Obtain a copy of the American Nurses Association Nursing Informatics Scope and Standards of Practice guidelines. Proactively utilize the Internet to search for detailed information about the specialty related to what it is and is not.
A diverse specialty, NI contains many roles. Familiarizing yourself with the different roles will help you decide exactly what it is in NI you want to do. Ask yourself: "Can I or am I willing to take a salary cut in order to transition from my current clinical specialty into NI? Am I willing to relocate or travel 100 percent of the job for the opportunity to get my foot in the door? Will I still be able to obtain satisfaction from my career and be able to continue to view myself as "a nurse" if I am not practicing at the bedside?"
Although there are roles that require experience, hiring managers are also looking to fill entry level positions. These roles that require little or no experience could provide you with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Searching online job boards and career sections for NI roles will help you learn: 1) what the position salary ranges are per geographical regions, 2) how many years and what type of (if any) experience is required, and 3) what the requirements and responsibilities are. The job boards/career sections of professional informatics organizations such as: ANIA-CARING, HIMSS and AMIA-NIWG are excellent sites to search for NI jobs and learn about the specialty. An additional reference for NI
roles, salaries and education is the HIMSS 2011 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey.
Join your local professional NI organization. State and national NI organizations such as the Alliance for Nursing Informatics are wonderful environments for networking with other nurse informaticists, potentially locating a mentor and obtaining continuing education specific to the domain. Once you have joined one of the professional NI organizations, fully utilize this forum for networking. Contact a practicing informatics nurse and request an informational interview or ask if you can shadow her for a day. Use this opportunity to learn firsthand what she does during the course of a work day. Nurses seeking to enter this specialty thinking that NI is "a desk job" or one that is less stressful or less physically taxing than bedside nursing will be disappointed. While there may be a sedentary component to many NI roles, working in NI can be equally as stressful (if not more) as clinical practice. NI job descriptions can include such physical demands as: "Must be able to lift 50 pounds, climb stairs, stoop, kneel or crawl to access hardware or wiring in the course of your job." "Must be able to work on-call and in a fast paced stressful environment."
Neither certification nor an advanced degree is a requirement to gain entry into this specialty. Unless you currently practice in informatics, hold off making the investment of time and money that seeking an advanced degree entails. For entry level positions your potential to do the job successfully is valued over academic credentials. Once you have secured a position then you can choose the best educational offering for your future career goals.
Can't secure a job in NI immediately? Use this time to volunteer to contribute as a super-user in any clinical information system initiatives or implementations occurring at your current place of employment. Volunteer to build a database for a small business or teach computer basics at church or a senior center. Become the nurse at your hospital, physician's practice office or home health agency that everyone comes to for "help with the computer."
Many informatics nurses got their starts via on-the-job training or volunteering for projects or roles that no one else wanted. Are you proficient with Microsoft Office applications: Word, Excel and Outlook? Do you understand the principles of relational databases, what the concepts of integration and evidence based care are? Do you know how to search for research? Are you aware of current payer and federal initiatives such as HIPPA, ARRA, meaningful use and ICD-10? Have you ever used MS Power Point, Visio, Access or Project? Use this time to improve your knowledge, competency and skills related to the above.
Resumes and Interviewing
Prior to applying for your first NI role, review and revise your resume. Hiring managers and recruiters look at your resume with an eye for past work experience and roles/responsibilities that relate to or can be related to informatics. Does your resume clearly explain past experience in this way? Although you are currently a staff nurse, your revised resume might include your previous experience as a "super-user."
Another NI related role/experience might be: "trainer" as in: "Providing system training to end users" or "Tester - Assist with system testing prior to Go Live." You may want to specify which software applications/computer systems/vendor products you have used and are proficient in.
If you have not had to interview for a job in a while or are not comfortable at interviews, prepare and practice your answers beforehand to some of the most commonly asked interview questions.
Human Resource staff and hiring managers evaluate how well (or if) you will fit in with the culture of the organization. So do your homework and come prepared to be able to verbalize the mission of the organization, a little about the history and current initiatives and why you want to work there.
Prior to your interview, Google the name(s) of anyone that will be interviewing you to learn about them. The more information you have prior to your interview the better prepared you will be. Also be prepared to ask your own set of questions. You are interviewing them as well as them interviewing you.
When it's time for the interview remember that you need to come across as confident without appearing arrogant. This is the time to sell yourself, communicate your enthusiasm for the role and your interest in the opportunity to learn and contribute to the organization. Avoid such generalizations as: "I love computers" as that is not enough. I "love" babies but that alone would not make me a good pediatric nurse.
Dress in conservative professional attire - a suit or jacket and dress pants or skirt. Avoid wearing khakis or denim to an interview even if the company allows "business casual." You don't work there yet. Arrive early and be polite to everyone including the cleaning lady.
Your goal during the interview is to verbalize and demonstrate your potential to succeed in the role you are interviewing for. You should impress your interviewer(s) with your motivation to do what it takes to acquire the necessary skills to get the job done.
NI Professional Growth and Development
OK, so you got the job, now what? In addition to learning your new role, continue to learn about your new specialty. After you have worked full-time for one year (equal to 2,000 hours) in nursing informatics you will have met one of the practice hour requirements to sit for the ANCC Informatics Certification Exam and obtain board certification in nursing informatics. Be aware, a new updated version of the exam is scheduled to be released in May 2012. A complete list of eligibility criteria can be found at: http://www.nursecredentialing.org/Informatics-Eligibility.aspx
Additionally, many colleges offer nursing informatics certification programs.
Continue to learn all the benefits that membership in your state, national and international nursing informatics association(s) have to offer. Membership in many of the state NI organizations often provides discounts to peer reviewed journal subscriptions. Free online NI journals, blogs and forums also exist.
Join your NI organization's list serve. Make plans to attend at least one annual conference and obtain continuing education credit. Be aware that the software vendors that produce the applications you work with at your organization usually also have an annual conference. Your employer may pay for you to attend. Think about attending a WINI or a SINI. Consider participating in a leadership role in your local or national NI organization - a great way to build your management skills for use on the job.
The above offerings provide wonderful mediums that help you connect with the larger NI community, meet and network with other NI professionals; stay abreast of what's happening in the industry; find potential answers to problems you are having at your organization, learn what others are doing across the country related to NI and facilitate growth and development in both your career and profession.
Once you feel you know enough about the different roles within NI, consider your career goals and whether you wish to pursue an advanced degree. Could you use additional training in the software you support/work with? Do you need a mentor to help you navigate the oftentimes confusing NI career track? Would an additional degree make you more marketable? Would an advanced degree improve your NI practice? Right now, do you just want to concentrate solely on becoming proficient in your new role? Are you interested in a leadership role, academics or research within NI? Where do you want to be (career wise) 5 years from now? The options available to you are endless and the future looks bright for nursing informatics.
Angela Lewis has been a practicing RN for 25 years and has held various clinical and management positions in acute, home health and managed care environments. She originally began her Informatics career as a telehealth nurse. She is currently senior consultant for Beacon Partners.