A Career in Nursing Informatics?

Anne Cooper, NHS Digital Chief Nurse, and Danielle Siarri, Founder of InnoNurse, argue that the networked world has created an opportunity for nursing informatics professionals to connect and add value through sharing best practice examples and evidence-based research, looking at their career trajectory.

Anne Cooper’s perspective

I fell into a role in informatics. It was my innate curiosity that led me there and an instinct that working with technologists - we weren’t talking about data quite so much back then - was an interesting space to be in. I was right, of course!

I started out being a nurse lead on an IT project in 1999. As it turns out, even today, that is the route in for many nurses in the UK.

That opportunity led me to a whole new world of exciting projects and learning – the learning curve was huge and some of the times I felt completely out of my depth, but I don’t regret my decision and over the last 15 or so years I have had a fantastic time and I have learned so much. 

Along the way, I completed a postgraduate diploma in Clinical Informatics, but I have always thought that well-structured practical experience is how I have truly learnt, along with plenty of leadership development.

But you have to consider the differences in definition: for me, the term ‘informatics’ covers the use of technology and data, and, in fact, the term ‘digital’ fits more comfortably with me as describing the breadth of the old term ‘informatics’.

These days getting into informatics in the UK, from a nursing perspective, is still pretty tough. It’s as much about being in the right place at the right time as anything else, but I think it is increasingly being recognised as part of the nursing ‘family’. 

'There is still so much more to do'

We are starting to see more and more high-profile nurses taking up, what it is now often referred to, the digital agenda. 

There are nurses who have brilliant ideas, who have gone on to deliver great patient-facing solutions, like Emma Selby, who led the development of a solution called My Mind, a mobile app and website created to meet the growing need for better communication and universal support in children and adolescent mental health care. 

There are other nurses like Jackie Whittle in Leeds, who and is now a Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO), leading the profession in her area and beyond to support adoption of technology as an enabler to better care. 

Another notable leader is Janice Sigsworth, Chief Nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, who has been a great advocate for informatics nurses.

There are many I could mention, but, despite this, there is still so much more to do, and we still don’t have a clear career framework to help people to progress. 

The Faculty of Clinical Informatics welcomes nurses and allied health professionals, but they are small in number in what is a still medically dominated field.

At NHS Digital, we have just appointed four clinical fellows who are in practice to work with us and learn more about the organisation and, more importantly, informatics and its breadth.

We need to make sure that the work on developing careers in informatics takes into account the cultural differences and behaviours across all clinical professionals and that we work hard to make sure there are opportunities and careers for all those who have an interest in what is currently an unclear career path.

A contrasting perspective from Danielle Siarri in the United States 

I completed my degree in General Science, taking as many courses as I could, and I then discovered nursing. It seemed perfect: it blended the love for science and curiosity of how the human body functioned.

While in nursing school, I experienced many different disciplines, but trauma nursing spoke to me the most. The pace and the use of computers was a good fit.

I have explored nursing informatics across a number of countries and from this experience developed InnoNurse.info, offering a comprehensive resource for those interested in nursing, information, and computer science.

But the road leading from the bedside to nursing informatics in the US is quite complex.

Twenty years ago, the lucky few who first went on the journey started with on the job training, and then pursued a path of higher education.

Now that path has narrowed, and the United States HIMSS 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce survey helps to track the changes in nursing informatics as a profession from 2004 until 2017.

'Moving into informatics is easier with goals, planning, and thorough preparation'

These days, most nurses working in this field title themselves nurse informatics specialists, working in the hospital environment with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and undertaking specialist qualifications after graduation.

Moving into informatics is easier with goals, planning, and thorough preparation. The economics of advanced degrees and associations have to be calculated in the overall planning during the transition.

Nurses must have an open mind to study beyond the role and title, sometimes physically moving to a new location to accept a challenging role and to continue to grow on a professional level. 

There are few roles as a nurse informatics specialist versus bedside nursing, so researching and understanding the business needs of a company is very important in planning your career path and succession.

International collaboration

As technology continues to advance healthcare, remaining a key policy both in the United States and in the UK, Cooper and Siarri agree that there is a great opportunity now for professionals to connect and share learnings. 

Cooper, who is part of the HIMSS UK Advisory Board, will be speaking at the UK e-Health Week conference at Olympia in London on 15 and 16 May. The event will bring together healthcare IT experts from the UK and beyond to foster cross-border collaboration, focused around three main themes: leadership, global lessons and digital advances

HIMSS UK is the parent company of BJ-HC. 

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