Nursing Informatics

My Specialty

Nursing Informatics

A booming field that combines technology and nursing

By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN
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Since the 1980s, the term “nursing informatics” has been used to describe the intersection of nursing practice and information technology. This specialty offers tremendous career opportunity to RNs who have the aptitude for emerging systems. Nursing informatics interweaves electronic patient education, information retrieval, electronic medical records (EMRs), information security, workflow analysis, medication delivery, patient care and information systems. Information technology has become so important to the nursing profession that often clinical nurse executives are now partnering with Chief Information Officers (CIO).

Many schools of nursing now offer advanced degrees in informatics, and examples of positions in the area of informatics include nurse informatics executives, programmers, “super users” and RNs whose responsibilities include training their colleagues in the use of information technologies.

In this article, we focus on three nurses who are deeply involved in the impressive and cutting-edge informatics systems at Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia.

Kara Marx, RN, MHS, is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Methodist Hospital of Southern California. She holds a Masters of Healthcare Sciences from The New School for Social Research in New York City, and her excitement about healthcare informatics was made very apparent during the course of our conversation. While many healthcare institutions generally employ non-clinicians as CIO, Methodist Hospital has instead chosen to have a nurse play this significant role within the IT Department.

“You need someone to lead the project who understands patient care, workflows, and the work of the nurse on the floor,” Marx explains. “Whereas a technical person lacks that intimate clinical understanding, nurses incorporate it as second nature.”

She is responsible for implementing software and choosing handheld devices, bar code scanners and other equipment that nurses will actually use. As an RN, she asks the questions about the new technologies that a nurse would logically ask. She adds, “I think of these things from a patient-care and patient-use perspective.”   

She made it clear throughout our conversation that the interaction of nurses and technology is paramount when it comes to successful implementation of new systems. For example, adopting an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) “necessitates the buy-in of the nursing department in order to be successful.”

When it comes to opportunities for nurses to involve themselves in IT, she urges interested nurses to volunteer for projects at their institutions, or at other facilities. Some nurses become “super users” for various systems, acting as expert resources for their colleagues. Others receive on-the-job training and become nurse informatacists.

Still others pursue advanced degrees and become managers or executives. Marx adds, “The industry has created the demand and the schools of nursing have responded.”

Jason Aranda, RN, is the Informatics Manager at Methodist Hospital. Although he works in the IT Department, Aranda reports to nursing via a dotted line relationship. He quips, “I report to nursing, but I live with IT!”  Responsibilities are dynamic; they include rolling out clinical software and conducting workflow analysis for migrating paper-based systems to the electronic world.

Beginning his nursing career in critical care and as a traveling nurse, Aranda sought a position with an electronic medical record (EMR) software company in order to gain the experience he needed to get a foot in the door of nursing informatics.

“When I was working with the software company, the norm was for most companies to not have nurses on staff,” Aranda says, adding that he was the only one there. Now software companies are integrating nurses and other clinicians into the vendor business. This provides an excellent opportunity for technologically-savvy nurses to break into the field.

When it comes to hospital-based informatics, there is an emphasis on workflow analysis. There’s a notion that once the switch is made to electronic systems, it’s going to fix all the workflow problems. Actually, the opposite is true; if there’s a bad process in place, the electronic system magnifies it. The informatics team provides recommendations on best practices to be implemented on the clinical side.

Aranda believes nursing informatics is a growing specialty that offers the opportunity for considerable professional recognition.

Robin Stout, RN, MS, earned a Masters Degree in Nursing Informatics earlier this year from the University of Maryland, a school that has been offering informatics degrees for several decades.  

Originally a critical care nurse, Stout took time off to raise a family and concurrently became deeply interested in web development. Completely self-taught, Stout began successfully creating websites for small non-profits and medical practices.

Seeking a way into the burgeoning field of nursing informatics, Stout applied for an unpaid internship at Methodist Hospital. She is now a nurse informatacist, having parlayed her love of information technology and healthcare into a position where she is paid to pursue her passion.

Discussing her work as an informatacist, Stout says that she is an intermediary between information technology and nursing, because those two groups of people sometimes  “don’t speak the same language.” It can be difficult for someone who’s not a clinician to understand what’s needed at the bedside. Informatacists have one foot in each world, and it is their responsibility is to make sure that what’s developed for the clinicians is right for them.

Nurse informatacists spend a great deal of time in conversation and negotiation. Stout’s work involves interaction with nurses, doctors, technicians and managers. She doesn’t contribute directly to patient care, but her work impacts the quality of the care that’s delivered.  

“The computer is just a tool,” she continues. “We’re harnessing information to use it more effectively for patient care.”

Nursing Informatics is a field that is growing leaps and bounds with current technological developments. While many schools of nursing now offer various informatics degrees, nurses who want to get involved in the field without further education can gain crucial knowledge and skills either through volunteer positions, internships, or on-the-job training.

Like Jason Aranda, some nurses temporarily pursue employment outside of nursing in order to learn the skills to gain entry into the field, while others use their inherent technological skills to pursue positions within institutions where they are already employed.

Informatics and technology are here to stay, and for those nurses whose passions lie in these areas, a satisfying and intellectually challenging career is truly at their fingertips.

Keith Carlson is a registered nurse, writer and blogger. He writes for a variety of nursing and health websites, and has been included in several nonfiction nursing books by Kaplan Publishing. He is editorial contributor to His own blog can be found at


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse, writer and blogger. He writes for a variety of nursing and health websites, and has been included in several nonfiction nursing books by Kaplan Publishing. He is editorial contributor to His own blog can be found at  

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