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How to Become a Health Informatics Specialist

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

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From fitness and sleep apps to major hospital networks and medical device manufacturers, health and wellness data is becoming a huge part of life in the 21st century. Many experts think we’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. As the amount of high quality health and wellness data increases, we’ll need people like health informatics specialists who ensure data structures are organized, secure, and easy to use for all parties involved.

If you’re excited by the idea of being part of an emerging career field with lots of flexibility to specialize in different areas, becoming a health informatics specialist could be a fantastic fit! Health informatics specialists are driving the future of data structures and information systems, and they’re well-rewarded for their position at the forefront of the healthcare industry. In fact, we recently featured health informatics specialists on our list of the highest-paying public health jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a health informatics specialist, including the educational requirements, necessary certifications, and some of the daily responsibilities you can expect on the job. You may also be pleasantly surprised at how long it takes to become a health informatics specialist—it’s a career that’s achievable in less time than you might think!

Not sure if becoming a health informatics specialist is the right career path for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying public health jobs.

Health Informatics Specialist Definition

What is a Health Informatics Specialist?

Health informatics specialists can be described as a blend between IT professionals and healthcare administrators. They work with health data in a variety of contexts to improve patient outcomes and develop more effective policies and treatments. In fact, many former nurses become health informatics specialists when they’re ready to transition away from providing direct patient care (although you don’t need to become a nurse first in order to have a career in health informatics).

Health Informatics Specialist: Job Description

What Does a Health Informatics Specialist Do?

Overall, health informatics specialists are responsible for collecting and analyzing healthcare data and overseeing the structures, processes, and systems used to gather that data. As a result, health informatics specialists provide valuable insights that drive medical advances and improvements in healthcare and patient policy for private and public healthcare organizations. They also implement and manage large-scale data collection and storage solutions that make their employers more efficient and better organized.

Health Informatics Specialist Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of health informatics specialists include:

  • Collecting and analyzing healthcare data in a variety of contexts
  • Designing and implementing processes and procedures for data collection and storage
  • Training others to use and manage health information systems and software
  • Overseeing healthcare information networks and ensuring appropriate regulatory compliance

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Health Informatics Specialist Skills

The most successful health informatics specialists have advanced computer skills, including some coding experience, which will come in handy while managing large databases. Blending those technical skills with interpersonal and communication skills is also important, particularly for health informatics specialists who lead teams or train their organization’s employees. Project-management expertise is also a major bonus in this career, particularly for the highest-paying health informatics jobs, where you’ll be expected to manage multiple contributors to hit important deadlines.

Where Do Health Informatics Specialists Work?

Health informatics specialists work for a broad range of organizations—basically anywhere that deals with large amounts of medical information. So you’ll find them employed everywhere from medical device manufacturers and health insurance companies to hospital networks and government health offices. Most health informatics specialists work fairly standard 40-hour workweeks, though in the rare case something goes wrong with a major data structure during off-hours, you may be expected to spring into action.

Health Informatics Specialist Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Health Informatics Specialist?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Health Informatics Specialist?

Health informatics specialists must be well-educated professionals with advanced training in both information management and human health, which means they must earn at least a bachelor’s degree. While traditional bachelor’s degree programs require a full four years in school, some accelerated degree programs can be completed in just two and a half years. Many health informatics specialists start their education by training as a registered nurse. However, other healthcare-focused bachelor’s degree programs can also qualify you for this career (especially if you plan to pursue a postsecondary degree.)

The highest-paid health informatics specialists almost always complete a master’s program, usually a Master of Healthcare Administration or a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. Many master’s degree programs require another two to three years in school, but just like your bachelor’s degree, you can finish your MPH degree much faster with an accelerated degree program. Some MPH programs can even be completed entirely online in as few as 63 weeks!

Like any other long-term goal, becoming a health informatics specialist can be broken down into a series of smaller steps, which can keep you on track and make the final outcome feel much more attainable.

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Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a health informatics specialist:

1. Enroll in a Healthcare-Focused Bachelor’s Degree Program

The first step in your health informatics specialist training is enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college or university. Many future health informatics specialists choose a bachelor’s program in health-related fields, like a Bachelor of Science in Health & Wellness or a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration. While earning any college degree will require focus and dedication, nearly anyone who’s willing to put in the effort can finish a bachelor’s degree program. For example, to enroll in any of the healthcare-focused B.S. programs at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED, plus a passing score on a Scholastic Level Exam and a computer literacy exam.

2. Earn Your Bachelor of Science Degree

Health informatics specialists must complement their technical skills and knowledge of information systems with a well-rounded understanding of human health issues. That means earning a healthcare-focused bachelor’s degree can give you a significant head start over other degree programs as you work toward a career as a health informatics specialist.

Like any bachelor’s degree program, you should expect to study several general-education subjects like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications. There’s a reason all these classes are a required part of any bachelor’s degree course load—they’ll make you a more well-rounded person and professional and help you discover new interests and talents.

To succeed as a health informatics specialist, you’ll not only need solid STEM and communication skills. You’ll need plenty of contextual knowledge about human health, as well as how healthcare facilities and programs work in the real world. Any bachelor’s degree program with a concentration in healthcare will likely include courses in everything from kinesiology to psychology to courses focused on health education and healthcare administration. Other classes will teach you leadership and management principles and how to use data and statistics in the context of public health issues. Finally, you can expect to spend certain classes learning about healthcare law and ethics, which will be especially valuable for health informatics specialists who are often privy to sensitive (and highly regulated) patient data.

3. Earn Your Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree

While earning a bachelor’s degree will make it possible to get your foot in the door with certain entry-level health informatics jobs, earning a master’s degree like a Master of Public Health (MPH) can help you really stand out during a job search. Most graduate-level public health programs include advanced training in health information and data structures and will also help you polish the leadership and communication skills you’ll need to manage large teams and complex projects.

In addition to advanced training in health information structures and administration, your public health master’s program will include courses covering subjects like epidemiology and environmental and occupational health. You’ll also take classes that dive deeper into measuring clinical effectiveness and how to analyze and improve public health systems and policies.

At the end of your MPH program, you’ll need to complete a capstone course where you’ll apply the statistical methods you’ve learned to some aspect of public health. This capstone will demonstrate your ability to distill large amounts of healthcare data into meaningful, actionable insights, which will be a major part of your career as a health informatics specialist.

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4. Stand Out by Earning Additional Certifications

While not required to begin work as a health informatics specialist, earning additional credentials from the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is a great way to demonstrate thorough mastery of all the skills required to manage healthcare information systems successfully. Once you’ve earned a graduate degree and gained the required work experience, you’ll be eligible to take the CPHIMS exam, which will distinguish you as one of the top healthcare informatics specialists in the industry. The CPHIMS exam consists of 115 multiple-choice questions administered over a two-hour period.

Health Informatics Specialist Salary

How Much Do Health Informatics Specialists Make?

Like all the other top public health careers, salaries are highest for health informatics specialists with the most experience and education. Health informatics is still an emerging field, so specific salary* data is limited. However, Salary.com does report the average annual salary* for the very similar career of health informatics nurse specialists at $91,000, or around $41 per hour. Health informatics nurse specialist salaries among the top 25% of earners average over $105,000 per year, while earners among the top 10% start at $116,000 and up.

Health Informatics Specialist Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Health Informatics Specialists?

Health informatics specialists are at the forefront of an emerging industry and should have excellent job prospects in the years to come. While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for health informatics specialists, they estimate that overall demand for the closely related field of computer and information systems managers will increase around 11% by 2030. That’s higher than the average growth rate for all jobs, which makes sense considering the healthcare industry’s global shift toward using data to better inform decision-making at every level.

Ready to Start Your Career as a Health Informatics Specialist?

If you’re excited by the prospect of guiding the healthcare industry into the future of data and analytics, becoming a health informatics specialist could be your ticket to a satisfying and stable career. You’ll get to use your analytical and problem-solving skills to help healthcare organizations deliver better results, and you’ll be well-rewarded for your abilities in a career that offers some of the highest salaries among all public health jobs.

Ready to start taking steps toward a long and rewarding career as a health informatics specialist? Click here to learn more about the MPH program at Brookline College, and start the journey toward your new career in public health today!