By Tamara B. Dolan, RN, MSN, OCN, NurseZone editorial board member
May 21, 2010 - First established as a nursing specialty in 1992, the American Nurses Association (ANA) describes nursing informatics as “a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice.”
In addition to working in acute, home health, and long-term care facilities, nurses in this specialty may work in medical device and software companies, government agencies, and disease management companies. In these and other settings, nurse informatacists function in a variety of roles, delineated by the ANA as follows: administration, leadership, and management; analysis; compliance and integrity management; consultation; coordination, facilitation and integration; development; educational and professional development; policy development and advocacy; and research and evaluation.
As efforts increase to enhance the delivery of safe, efficient and evidenced-based patient care using technology, so, too, does the demand on nursing to incorporate these tools into daily practice. Although today’s health care environment requires that all nurses demonstrate basic informatics proficiency, there is an ever-increasing demand for nurses with informatics expertise.
Beginning in 1995, the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC) began offering board certification for nursing informatics. Certification, designated RN-BC, confirms that a nurse has met an established professional standard for the nursing informatics specialty. It is a clear and measurable way of demonstrating competence.
“Becoming certified in informatics helped me establish credibility in the organization as an informatics professional,” explains Sharon Milligan, MS, RN-BC, CPHQ. “I validate and demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and skill in the specialty by obtaining certification. And there is a sense of personal accomplishment as well.”
Linda Privette, RN-BC, MSN, holds a masters degree in nursing administration, and believes board certification may be particularly valuable to her, as it establishes her as having specialized knowledge beyond nursing administration.
Some employers place a high priority on certification, providing reimbursement for testing fees. According to Rose Giannini, MSN, RN-BC, “Many organizations are interested in Magnet designation, and therefore value and encourage nurses to become certified in their specialty.” In addition, many employers view certification as an advantage when screening job applicants. Sharon McLane, Ph.D., MBA, RN-BC, knows this firsthand. “Most of the positions I have interviewed for in the past 18 months required or preferred certification,” says McLane.
In terms of the value certification adds from the individual perspective, Janet Johnson, BSN, MPH, RN-BC, initially did not feel certification was necessary. When her manager included it as a goal on her evaluation, she began studying for the test. “The information I discovered during the preparation was well worth it. I better understand the role and what impact informatics nurses have on nurses at the bedside—as well as how critical it is for us to make their lives better.”
To be eligible to take the exam, a nurse must hold a current, active registered nurse license; must have practiced a minimum of two years (full-time equivalent) as an RN; must have a minimum of a baccalaureate degree in nursing or a relevant field; and must have completed 30 hours of continuing education in informatics within the past three years. In addition, the nurse must either have practiced a minimum of 2,000 hours in informatics nursing within the past three years or practiced a minimum of 1,000 hours and completed 12 graduate level academic credits in informatics courses; or completed a graduate nursing informatics program including a minimum of 200 hours of faculty supervised practicum.
A combination of work experience and study seems to be the best approach to exam preparation. “I do not believe that [work] experience is enough to prepare for the exam,” cautions Giannini. ANCC provides a test outline and suggested references to help guide a study plan. In addition to reviewing that material, Milligan recommends studying with a colleague. “A study partner can keep you on track and [hold you] accountable,” she advises.
At the same time, involvement in informatics-related projects is essential. “You learn a tremendous amount about product life cycle, adult learning skills, organizational behavior and project management,” explains Mary Zasada, MSN, RN-BC. “Like so many things, reading about [those concepts] isn’t enough.”
Attending a review course, such as the Weekend Immersion in Informatics (WINI), may also be helpful. “I am so glad I took a WINI,” says McLane. “It offered a great review, as well as exposure to facets [of nursing informatics] that you may not have much experience with in your current employment.” (For more information, visit www.icce.us.)
“The test was challenging, not impossible,” encourages Privette.
Jane McNeive, RN-BC, echoes that sentiment, explaining that, “With the continuing education and experience required prior to taking the exam, you have more of a knowledge base than you realize.”
About the author:
Tamara B. Dolan is a nurse, writer and consultant specializing in oncology, informatics and education. Her professional experience includes inpatient and outpatient acute care, information systems, staff development, and medical device and software support. She is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society and ANIA-Caring.
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