Masters in Health Informatics – Guide to Choosing a Great Program
Earning a Master’s in Health Informatics can open the door to a rewarding career leveraging data to help healthcare payers and providers make better-informed decisions. Health care systems are saturated with data. Medical and billing codes that codify patient data, physiological data gathered by health care providers, procedures for insurer and government payment processes, are just a few limited examples of the data types that are shuttled back and forth between the patient, provider, and payer (this is assuming that the patient isn’t also the direct payer).
Furthermore, health care providers aren’t a monolithic group, e.g., primary care providers, nursing care, pharmacists, specialists, etc. Thus, gathering and analyzing data within the health care realm has a higher degree of complexity than many other sectors. Given that all facets of health care are correlated to a patient’s health outcome — whether directly or indirectly — health informatics plays an important role in boosting the efficiency and accuracy of providing insight for bettering the health care system.
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, medical and health service manager jobs (under which health informatics is classified) will grow by 20% through the year 2026. With a median salary of $98,350, those who achieve a Masters in Health Informatics have a high probability of earning almost $40,000 more than the median income calculated for the entire U.S. working population. The health care sector will continue to expand due to an aging Boomer population and lifestyle factors that contribute to an increase in diseases such as diabetes. As such, if you are drawn to the health care field, but prefer to work on the data and information side of the patient care equation, then a Masters in Health Care Informatics may be the perfect choice.
Why On-Campus vs. Online?
Choosing an on-campus vs. an online Masters in Health Informatics ultimately comes down to personal preferences. If you’re currently employed or have other responsibilities that constrain the when and where of a program, then an online program is likely the better option. Notably, there is very little if any divergence in program quality between the two. The focus of this article is an on-campus Masters in Health Informatics, which requires a few more considerations which we will cover in the steps below.
Step 1: Review the job types available to Masters in Health Informatics graduates
Even though focusing on the informatics aspect of health care may seem to narrow your job prospects, this is not the case. There are a variety of opportunities for health informatics graduates:
- Health Informatics Consultant
- Health Informatics Scientist
- Informatics Specialist
- Nurse Informatics
- Pharmaceutical Informatics
- Health Care Information Management
One way to kick-start your “job types” research for a Masters in Health Informatics is to search job sites like Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor or plug “Masters in Health Informatics jobs” into a Google search and sift through the job descriptions. Review the required qualifications and then pick through the preferred competencies. If you’re already in the health care field, then you have an edge as a job candidate. But, if you’re brand new to the industry, don’t despair. Choosing to advance your education with a Masters in Health Informatics is a solid step in getting past the human resource gatekeepers when applying for jobs.
Step 2: Determine the best cost and logistics for an on-campus program
Yearly tuition for an on-campus program varies between roughly $4,000 and $13,000. But, you need to look closely at the other fees that aren’t incorporated in the overall tuition cost: the application fee, health or health services fees, technology fees, student services fees, etc. Plus, you’ll need to consider transportation costs, including parking fees (if you’re driving as opposed to taking public transportation) and the time value of your travel to and from campus. For example, if it takes you an hour or more to navigate from your home to the classroom and back, this is an hour lost for studying or attending to your other responsibilities. On the other hand, for those who have a more “free” schedule, this may not matter at all.
This step is also where you’ll begin making a list of possible universities based on cost and location. If there is a local university that meets your travel and cost criteria — you should establish these quantitative values now as well — then you might already have your answer as to which program is the best fit. But, before you jump into the admissions process, review the other steps detailed below prior to finalizing your decision.
Step 3: Evaluate the university’s accreditation and ranking
Whichever school you select for your Masters in Health Informatics (or Masters in Health Care Informatics), make sure that it is an accredited program. Accredited universities undergo audits for academic quality by third parties. Most state and non-profit schools are regionally accredited which means they’ve applied for and have attained accreditation from one of the following regional agencies:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Accreditation can also be extended to a specific department or academic discipline, such as the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Usually, accredited academic departments will announce their accreditation on their department website. If you’re attending a state school as opposed to a private for-profit university, it’s a highly likely — if not assured — that they’ve secured accreditation. However, you can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation website to check whether or not the university or universities on your list are indeed accredited.
Step 4: Research the coursework and program length
There are varying titles and emphases for a Masters in Health Informatics. To illustrate, Stanford University offers a Masters in Biomedical Informatics (to be more specific, it’s a Masters of Science degree). There are also Masters in Nursing Informatics and programs that offer a Masters in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (for those who are hardcore quants). Research the program titles that interest you the most. Do you want to dig more deeply into the intersection of biology and informatics? Are you interested in the research side of informatics rather than the backend data gathering and analysis for insurance companies and large-scale health care providers, e.g, Anthem, Kaiser, Aetna, Humana, etc.? You’ll still be employable with the aforementioned major providers regardless of the particular informatics program. So, this comes down to your sustained interest in a given area.
On-campus programs, like their online counterparts, can span two years or more. Some private universities may deliver a fast track option where you’re completing a Masters in Health Informatics within 18 months. But, usually, these are online options. The number of required core courses and electives can increase or reduce the program’s length. How long are you willing to commit to a course of study for an on-campus program?
Life frequently throws challenges (and opportunities) at us which may interfere with even the best planned academic objectives. The amount of time it takes to complete the degree isn’t solely dictated by the university’s curriculum. Possible changes in employment, health or family life are common disruptors. So, try to factor those in as well. If you need to move, are your credits transferable to another institution? Should you need to take a break from school, how might that impact your intended graduation date?
Step 5: Compare the admission requirements for each university
While admission requirements may also vary, a majority of the Masters in Health Informatics programs require the following:
- An application fee
- GRE scores
- Official transcripts from all prior colleges
- A minimum GPA (usually 3.0)
- Two or three letters of recommendation from either prior employers or instructors
- A Statement of Purpose (SOP) or a Goal Statement
- Curriculum Vitae or a Resume
- TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students
Generally, there won’t be much to compare aside from the application fee amount. There are on-campus programs that waive the GRE while requiring all of the other items listed above. Should the GRE requirement be non-negotiable, plan on adding an extra $300 (or more) to your running costs for the program. Also, you’ll need to carve out GRE study time.
Step 6: Select your top university choices and apply
If you’re a student that can move to another city for the Masters in Health Informatics program, then your list may be longer than those who have other commitments that keep them in one locale. Choose the top three schools and begin the application process. If they all require the GRE, Educational Testing Service (the organization that creates and scores the exam) will provide the option for you to send the results to several institutions. Plan on taking the GRE at least 6 months prior to your application deadline. You can retake the test once every 21 days and up to five times in a single calendar year. The more prestigious schools tend to have an ideal minimum score on each section (quantitative, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing). Try to tailor your SOP or Goal Statement to each program. While copying and pasting this for each application may seem to save time, each university may require a different length (500 words vs. 300 words) and focus.