Informatics off the radar for most med students

March 6, 2015 in Medical Technology

A new survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association wanted to gauge medical students’ attitudes regarding clinical informatics training and careers. Instead, researchers found a surprising lack of awareness about the field.

The study closely follows a report by the career company Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based labor market analytics firm, which showed that there are plenty of jobs available in the healthcare informatics field, but few qualified candidates to fill them.

[See also: Why is informatics the top new career?]

JAMIA’s online survey received 557 responses from medical students at four medical schools, the available opportunities for training in clinical informatics far surpassed the respondents’ awareness of what was available – medical school electives, residency electives, or academic fellowships, for example.

Thirty percent of student respondents expressed at least some interest in a clinical informatics-related career, the survey showed, but they were no more aware of training opportunities than their peers who did not express an interest in the field, according to the study. Thirteen percent specified that they were “very” interested. In contrast, 37 percent of students were neutral, 29 percent were not interested, and 4 percent were unsure.

“Early outreach to such medical students, through elective classes, professional society incentives, or expert partnerships, may positively influence the size and skill set of the future CI workforce,” the authors wrote. “We should work as a field to increase the quantity, quality, and publicity of CI learning opportunities for interested medical students.”

The survey targeted students at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Oregon Health Science University School of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

[See also: Clinical informatics critical to reform.]

Each offered educational opportunities in clinical informatics. Brown University has a four-year, individualized concentration in informatics or in medical technology and innovation. OHSU offers a student-run Medical Informatics Interest Group, with lectures by faculty experts from the Department of Medical Informatics Clinical Epidemiology. The University of Alabama has a Division of Informatics within the Department of Pathology, with elective classes, including This Is Your Brain on Informatics. University of Arkansas offers a graduate program in bioinformatics, with periodic clinical informatics-related lectures.

“To maintain a robust culture of CI-related innovation, we must also work as a field to attract interested medical students and provide them with opportunities to build their CI skill sets and curricula vitae,” the authors wrote.

To create awareness of the clinical informatics field, organizations like AMIA could offer elective courses, professional society incentives or online or in-person forums, the authors suggested. Medical students could also explore the field by forming partnerships with informatics experts, whether clinical (for example, fellows or faculty affiliated with CI fellowship programs) or multidisciplinary (for example, faculty involved with translational informatics or public health informatics).

“Medical students are, evidently, interested in such opportunities, and we as a field will benefit from providing them with the tools to advance CI into its next generation,” the authors wrote.

The authors of the JAMIA article are: Rahul Banerjee, Paul George, Cedric Priebe and Eric Alper.

The Burning Glass study on healthcare informatics, published earlier this year, found that healthcare informatics includes a range of positions that involve the collection, handling and processing of clinical information for a variety of purposes, from billing to medical quality assurance. Also, informatics has become increasingly integrated into the management of clinical care.

The skills are demanding – patient care experience is a plus, as is a solid background in health information technology. Skilled nurses and physicians are in demand for the top jobs.

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