Medical Informatics  Program Description


Insider Info

dotStudents in medical informatics programs may well be called pioneers. They are standing at or near the point where the fields of medicine and computer science merge.

The definition of medical informatics is still fairly broad, says Dick Walters. He is a professor of computer science and medical informatics. He also chairs the medical informatics graduate group at the University of California at Davis.

Generally, medical informatics relates to the use of computers in solving clinical problems. "This could include diagnosis. It could include patient management. It could include medical records. It could include image processing. All those things are part of it," he says.

A handful of universities in the U.S. offer graduate and postgraduate degrees in medical informatics. Some schools also offer joint degree programs, short courses, certificates, post-doctoral research fellowships and online or distance education programs.

Medical informatics students take a variety of courses. You can divide them into three broad categories. The first includes IT courses such as programming, database support, network design and so on.

The second category includes health-related courses such as community health and epidemiology. Epidemiology is the study of how diseases spread across human populations.

The third category deals with things like hospital management and administration.

Many medical informatics students already have a degree, usually in health fields such as medicine and nursing. In fact, you might only be accepted into a program if you have experience working with hospital information systems.

"Our program assumes a knowledge of clinical information," says Walters.

Take computer classes in high school. Learn as much about programming as you possibly can.

Also take classes in English, math and the natural sciences such as biology, says Francis Lau. He heads the school of health information science at a university.

And you should get some medical volunteer experience, says Lau.

You also have to like learning if you want to study medical informatics, says Lau. "It is the same as in the IT world. What you learn today is outdated tomorrow. So you have to be prepared to be a lifelong learner."

Costs vary. But they tend to be on the high side, since many programs are offered through graduate schools.

Students should also budget for a computer. "Having your own computer is a very valuable thing for this program," says Walters.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Computer Systems Analysts, Database Administrators and Computer Scientists

Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association
News about medical informatics

Health-Care Informatics Online
Learn about the business of health-care information technology

Just the Facts

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