Health Care Informatics Degrees: Master, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a health care informatics program? Read about degree requirements, pros and cons of a master's and Ph.D. degree in health care informatics and potential careers for graduates of these degree programs.
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Studying Health Care Informatics: Master's and Ph.D. Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in the medical field and enjoy working with computers, earning a master's or Ph.D. degree in health care informatics could allow you to do both. Many well-paying positions in the field are available to graduates of both master's and Ph.D. programs, but some positions, especially at the managerial or director level, require extensive work experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that overall job growth for medical and health services managers, including health care informatics professionals, would be faster than average, at about 22% between 2010 and 2020. If you want to work as a university faculty member, you typically need to earn a Ph.D. The BLS estimated that job prospects for postsecondary faculty would be average. Let's take a look at how these two degrees compare to each other:

Master's Doctorate
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals who want to work in IT in a medical setting Those who want to become professors or researchers at a university
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Medical and health services manager ($86,000)*
- Health and information services director ($99,000 - additional work experience may be required)*
Same careers open to master's degree holders, as well as the following:
- Postsecondary teacher ($64,000)*
- Computer and information systems manager ($118,000 - may not require a Ph.D., but additional work experience could be required)
Time to Completion About two years full-time or up to six years part-time About 3-4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-12 graduate-level courses
- Thesis or capstone
All of the master's degree requirements, plus the following:
- Roughly 15-20 additional graduate-level courses
- Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree (preferably in a health care field, business or IT)
-GRE or MAT
- Master's degree, preferably in HIM or related field
- GRE or MAT
Online Availability Yes None at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's Degree in Health Care Informatics

If you've decided to earn a master's degree in health care informatics there's a good chance you've either been working in IT or health care. If you don't have work experience in a related field, many programs recommend that you have a bachelor's degree in health care informatics or another suitable discipline, such as business, nursing or computer science. The curriculum in most master's degree programs in health care informatics places a strong emphasis on coursework from these fields. Even if you don't have work experience or a bachelor's degree in an area to provide the foundation to successfully complete graduate level work in health care informatics, you'll still have to meet your school's prerequisite undergraduate course requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree provides ample education for employment in a wide variety of jobs in health care informatics
  • Job growth was expected to be good in the health care informatics field from 2010-2020
  • After gaining work experience in an entry-level job, you may have the opportunity to move into a managerial or director-level position

Cons

  • Many high-level jobs in health care informatics require years of experience in addition to a degree
  • A master's degree won't qualify you for most university faculty positions
  • Admission to some master's degree programs may require an undergraduate degree, or work experience in, health care or computer science

Common Courses and Requirements

Most master's degree programs in health care informatics are interdisciplinary. As a student in a master's degree program, you'll complete coursework drawn from a number of different disciplines, and you may be taught by professors from several academic departments. You'll take a combination of business, health care management and computer science courses, including information systems security, medical information systems, project management, data mining, health care delivery systems, statistics and data analysis. You'll also probably write a thesis or do a capstone project that applies what you've learned in the program as a requirement for graduation.

Online Degree Options

A number of fully online master's degree programs in health care informatics are available. Some programs, however, may be designed for people currently working in health care and will only accept students who meet this requirement, so you'll have to be aware of the type of program you need.

The courses and requirements for online programs are normally the same as those for campus-based students. Both programs take about the same amount of time to complete based on whether you're a part-time or full-time student.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The field of health care informatics encompasses a variety of occupational positions from the clerical through the executive levels. In order to get a managerial or directorial position, you usually need ample work experience in the field. To get started, consider applying for an internship, even though it may not be part of your coursework. If you can get an internship you'll have the opportunity to learn from health care informatics professionals, some of whom have probably been working in the field for many years. You should also join a professional organization for health care informaticists to provide additional networking opportunities. Finally, be on the lookout for new technological developments in the field to ensure you're always up-to-date.

Ph.D. Degree in Health Care Informatics

Be aware that admission to a Ph.D. program generally requires a master's degree in either health care informatics or another field with a heavy emphasis on health care, math or science, such as pharmacy, nursing, engineering, computer science or biology.

If you meet these requirements and decide to earn a Ph.D. in Health Care Informatics, you can anticipate a challenging, interdisciplinary, research-intensive program that usually requires a full-time commitment. In return for your dedication and diligence, you'll be qualified to enter into a career conducting research and teaching at a college or university.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning a Ph.D. will enable you to apply for tenure-track university faculty positions
  • Ph.D. students may receive financial support, such as assistantships and paid tuition, while earning their degrees
  • People with doctoral degrees enjoy a higher income and are not as likely to be unemployed as those with only a master's degree*

Cons

  • Most Ph.D. programs in health care informatics require at least three years of full-time attendance after completing a master's degree
  • This degree is not required for many career options in the health care informatics field
  • If you plan on a career as a professor, you may have a lower salary than some health care informatics professionals with only master's degrees

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

Choosing to complete a Ph.D. program in health care informatics means you'll be engaging in advanced quantitative research and taking classes on specialized topics in disciplines such as computer science, business management and health care technology. As a Ph.D. student you'll take additional courses with a more in-depth focus on many of the same topics featured in a master's program in health care informatics. Also, you'll be expected to add to the body of research in the field through writing a dissertation. In most programs, you'll begin work on your dissertation after completing your classes and passing a qualifying exam.

Online Degree Options

No online Ph.D. programs in health care informatics are available at this time. A few programs offer various individual classes online, but consist primarily of campus-based coursework. Most Ph.D. programs in health care informatics are offered only on a full-time basis to students who will be attending all classes in a face-to-face format. Additionally, some schools offer financial assistance to Ph.D. students, such as research and teaching assistantships, which necessitates that you be on campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

As a Ph.D. student in health care informatics, you may be expected to develop your application design skills. Think about a specific process in the field that needs to be streamlined, and work on creating an application for that purpose. If your aim is to obtain an academic position, you'll need to focus on creating a portfolio of publication credits, either on your own or by researching and writing articles with professors. Whether you want to work in academia or in a medical setting, attending conferences in your specific area of study can provide an opportunity to network with others in your field.

Popular Schools

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  • Pittsburgh, PA

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  • Newark, NJ

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  • Cambridge, MA

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Grand Canyon University

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Colorado Technical University

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Northcentral University

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Columbia University in the City of New York

Carnegie Mellon University

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey