Nursing informatics programs gaining ground

Hoping to fill a projected gap of some 50,000 healthcare IT professionals in the next several years, the Office of the National Coordinator’s Health IT Workforce Development Program is funding community college programs that can train IT professionals in healthcare and train healthcare professionals, like nurses, in IT.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also projecting a 20 percent increase in demand for registered nurses during the next decade, and amid increased enrollment in nursing schools, nursing informatics is growing as part of the curriculum.

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Outlining the clinical quality potential and increasing demand for nursing informatics specialization, HIMSS called nursing informatics an “emerging giant” in 2007. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s quality standards include applied informatics education as an essential requirement for baccalaureate and the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

It’s not clear how many college and university nursing programs incorporate health IT, although many graduate programs do, and some schools offer undergraduate and doctoral specializations in nursing informatics.

But nursing programs at community colleges and some universities have lagged behind, said Vicki Vallejos, a registered nurse and the clinical informatics manager at Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the American Nursing Informatics Association president.

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“I think it should be a semester course in every nursing school, regardless of what the level is,” Vallejos said. “Nurses need to understand the wide spectrum of what a nurse informaticist can do,” Vallejos said, adding that the U.S. has not “come to where that it is the norm in nursing schools.”

Vallejos helps manage some of the nursing students from eight regional community colleges and universities that do practicums at Clark Memorial Hospital. Only two of those eight have informatics in the curriculum, she said.

The ONC’s grant program is helping community colleges create informatics certificate programs that can be completed along with a nursing degree, or that registered nurses can complete online or part-time.

Based on Vallejos’ observations, nursing informatics education, like HIT adoption, varies across the country. None of the regional community colleges around Clark Memorial Hospital have joined ONC’s training program.

“Here in the Midwest,” Vallejos said, “it seems like everything gets to us last from both sides of the coast.”

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