What to Expect
Medical informatics students learn to create and manage information systems
for medical facilities and organizations. The diversity of the field gives
students a great deal of freedom to explore.
"It is an incredibly diverse field," says Janet O'Brien. She took
the medical informatics program at the University of California at Davis.
"What you have to do is pick an area that you are interested in and concentrate
on it and use the resources of the university to further what you are interested
Among other things, O'Brien is interested in human speech recognition
by computers. She wants to know how it can be used to search medical databases
for medical concepts and connections.
Speech recognition is a technology that allows a computer to "understand,"
"If we always used the same word for the same meaning each time in medical
notes, it would be possible for a computer application to scan the note and
extract meaning from it," she says. "This would allow medical outcomes research
on a scale never before possible."
This is pretty advanced stuff. And if you want to do this kind of work, you
need to be pretty comfortable around computers. You have to know a thing
or two about writing programming code on top of medical knowledge.
Students may end up spending a lot of time staring at a computer screen.
Just ask Valerie Gibbs. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in health information
science. "I spent at least 20 hours a week in the [computer] lab, working
on lab assignments," she says.
Group projects are common. They generally try to reflect problems
students would encounter in the real world. One project Gibbs worked on was
to critique the strategic information management plan of a hospital and compare
it to the plan of a regional health authority.
Gibbs had no programming experience whatsoever when she enrolled. The same
was true for O'Brien. She still remembers the stress she experienced during
the final exam for one of her computer classes.
"We had one course on the Internet and the final exam was to create a website
in class," O'Brien says. "That was kind of a white-knuckle job."