Clinical Informatics: Is It the Right Field for You?

Marlene Busko


February 07, 2019

A Growing Field

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), which was formed in 1988, is the premier academic society for biomedical and health informatics and has been the driving force behind the new clinical informatics subspecialty, Grasso and colleagues explain in an article on the Emergency Medicine Residents' Association website. In 2011, the American Board of Medical Specialties recognized clinical informatics as a subspecialty, Hersh and colleagues note in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Until recently, clinicians were able to become certified in clinical informatics in the following three ways:

  • 3 years of practice with 25% clinical informatics work;

  • A MS or PhD in biomedical informatics; and

  • A board exam certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) or by the American Board of Pathology (ABP)

In 2013, the first 456 physicians in the United States became board-certified in this new subspecialty: 432 via the ABPM and 24 via the ABP. Similar numbers of physicians were certified by the two boards in each of the subsequent years, and by 2017, there were 1690 board-certified clinical informatics diplomates.

The number of fellowship programs in clinical informatics in the United States has grown from four to 33. As a consequence, beginning in 2023, as described on the ABPM website, clinicians will no longer be able to become certified in this subspecialty via the two "practice pathways." Instead, they will have to complete an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited fellowship in clinical informatics and then pass a board exam that is given annually.

Diverse Career Options

"There are almost three different subsets of curriculum that are included in most clinical informatics programs," said Desai. This includes MBA-style topics (eg, change management and organizational behavior), computer science classes (eg, computer networks and programming), and evaluation and improvement sciences (eg, biostatistics, epidemiology, and quality improvement). "You learn a lot of very useful techniques," he said, "for how to address and think about problems in the health IT space."

Career options are equally diverse. "A lot of people in clinical informatics end up becoming CMIOs," said Grasso, or go into research. "I still practice medicine about half the time, and half the time I do research in informatics; those are the two main career choices." Other clinical informaticists may have careers in education, government, or industry (such as a working for big EHR vendor or a small start-up), Hersh noted. "In many places, including our medical school," he continued, "we've started to teach informatics in the medical school curriculum, because all physicians" need to know this.

Although Grasso has a PhD in computer science, he says "you need to have an interest in information and an interest in technology, but you don't need to have a degree in computers."


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