Students in medical informatics programs may well be called pioneers. They
are standing at or near the point where the fields of medicine and computer
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
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
"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 What you learn today is outdated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 HandbookFor more information related to this field of study, see: Computer
Systems Analysts, Database Administrators and Computer Scientists
Journal of the American Medical Informatics AssociationNews about medical informatics
Health-Care Informatics OnlineLearn about the business of health-care information technology
Want a quick overview of what this program is about? Check out Just the Facts for
a simple description.