Who Gets a Ph.D. in Health Informatics & What to Expect
A Ph.D. in health informatics trains students to conduct research using health data and use healthcare information technology to advance disease prevention and treatment. Research areas include telemedicine, health information exchange, and computer models for disease prevention and management. While a master’s degree offers a professional emphasis and is a great option for students with a background in healthcare or information technology, a Ph.D. focuses on research and provides a deeper field understanding.
A Ph.D. in health informatics online qualifies graduates for faculty and professor positions in medical schools and other educational institutions. Doctoral degrees also prepare students for research positions in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Health Informatics
A Ph.D. is an intensive commitment. Students should contemplate why they want to pursue a doctorate in health informatics and how it might help them achieve their personal and professional goals. See below five reasons to pursue a Ph.D. in health informatics online:
A Ph.D. in health informatics qualifies individuals to teach at colleges and universities. Anyone interested in a traditional academic career should obtain a doctorate.
SPECIALIZE IN A RESEARCH AREA
Ph.D. programs provide students with the theories and methodologies to conduct their own research projects and disseminate their results. Anyone interested in advancing science in the health informatics field should pursue a doctorate.
CHANGE CAREERS OR FIELDS
Individuals with a different educational and professional background who want to become experts in health informatics may choose to pursue a doctorate.
Ph.D. programs allow students to pursue research projects that can impact how healthcare technologies are implemented. Students who are passionate about social issues, such as teen suicide prevention or reducing racial health disparities, and those interested in healthcare technology applications may want to pursue a Ph.D. in health informatics.
INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY AND GROWTH
A Ph.D. is intellectually challenging and demanding. Students gain research skills and contribute knowledge to society.
What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Health Informatics
Graduates from an online health informatics doctoral program can pursue many careers. Several Ph.D. grads work in academia, which includes teaching at the college level and conducting research on health informatics topics; however, Ph.D. graduates can also work as corporate health program researchers or health informatics analysts. They might also work in hospitals or healthcare facilities as health data scientists or researchers. While those with a Ph.D. may work in the same spaces as those with a Medical Doctor (MD) degree, doctoral degrees ultimately prepare graduates for clinical work and patient care.
Common Career Paths and Salaries
Career paths for doctoral degree graduates in health informatics vary. Graduates might work at colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, corporations, government agencies, or nonprofits. Within these settings, health informatics graduates can hold different positions and carry out different types of work. You can explore five potential careers for graduates below.
Assistant Professor of Health Informatics
Assistant professors of health informatics balance teaching and research responsibilities at a university. They design courses and lesson plans, give lectures, and grade exams or papers. They also apply for grants for their own research to advance science in their field.
Average Annual Salary: $67,000
Health Informatics Specialist
Health informatics specialists facilitate and maintain information technology systems for a healthcare organization or facility. They conduct research on the systems, devise plans for implementing more efficient technology solutions, and troubleshoot issues.
Average Annual Salary: $62,962
Clinical Informatics Specialist
Clinical informatics specialists manage patient records for medical facilities. They develop and adopt technological systems and interfaces to better streamline healthcare organization and delivery. They also teach other staff how to use these systems.
Average Annual Salary: $76,922
Biostatisticians conduct statistical analysis concerning a range of biology-related data. They typically work with a scientific research team at universities or medical institutions to develop statistical approaches and analyze results.
Average Annual Salary: $75,546
Health Information Manager
Health information managers collect and coordinate the records at healthcare facilities such as hospitals and community care clinics. They also develop health policy information systems.
Average Annual Salary: $54,530
Health Informatics Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes
To apply for an online health informatics Ph.D. program, candidates need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and a satisfactory GRE test score. Individuals with a master’s or another advanced degree can apply with no other requirements. Most online health informatics doctoral programs require 70-90 credits. Students can typically complete the degree in 5-7 years.
During the first few years, students complete coursework on topics such as foundations of healthcare informatics, applied healthcare databases, healthcare analytics and data science, biostatistics, and research methods. If students enter the program without a master’s degree, they may need to attain one along the way, which includes passing a comprehensive exam and writing a thesis. Students work with their advisors and committee members to formulate and complete a dissertation research project. Along with writing a dissertation, students must complete an exam and an oral defense.
Most curricula in health informatics Ph.D. programs focus on computational tools and data applications. Students can leverage these tools and applications for healthcare analytics and developing solutions that improve healthcare services and delivery. Required courses also include research methods, including both qualitative and quantitative methods.
MACHINE LEARNING IN BIOINFORMATICS
This course provides an in-depth look at advanced topics in bioinformatics with a focus on machine learning. Students learn about artificial neural networks, decision trees, kernel methods, and hidden Markov models. Students examine the application of these techniques to bioinformatics problems, such as gene finding, protein structure prediction, and gene expression analysis.
BIOLOGICAL DATABASE MANAGEMENT
This course teaches the application of database management to bioinformatics. The course covers data modeling, query optimization, data indexing, and complications that can arise due to the complex nature of bioinformatics data. Students also explore relevant challenges in bioinformatics data management in relation to today’s technological and healthcare landscape.
This course covers informatics approaches to the function of biological macromolecules based on their structure. The course teaches molecular visualization, prediction of protein structure, and structure determination and alignment. This course is ideal for those who want a deeper focus in bioinformatics.
ANALYTICS OF BIOMEDICAL DATA
This course covers the management and analysis of patient data, genomic databases, and electronic health records to improve patient care and healthcare services delivery. The course explores the dynamics of the value-driven healthcare system, measuring health system performance, comparing healthcare delivery, and examining how the IT infrastructure and human capital can use analytics for health improvement.
APPLIED STATISTICAL METHODS
This course provides students with the knowledge and skills to understand and interpret health and biomedical data. The course covers interpreting health data with missing values, correlating phenotypic and genotypic data, model population sampling and testing for specific diseases, and regression analysis.
In addition to coursework, online Ph.D. programs in health informatics often have other requirements, including field experience, residency or internship experience, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Requirements vary by program and school. See below for a few examples of these requirements and what they might entail.
WRITTEN AND ORAL QUALIFYING EXAM
Students must typically complete a written exam covering material from the curriculum’s core courses. The student’s committee members determine exam questions and tailor them to the student’s particular research interests. Students then defend their answers through an oral exam.
Typically a written overview of the proposed dissertation project, the student’s committee must approve the proposal before research can commence. Students may also need to complete an oral defense in which they answer questions about their proposed dissertation project.
The dissertation is a lengthy essay describing the results of an independent research project that serves as a capstone to most Ph.D. degrees. Curricula often requires students to register for research and writing hours while they work on the dissertation. After they finish writing, students must also pass an oral defense administered by their committee.
Skills and Competencies
Health informatics professionals conduct independent research, write and communicate their findings, implement or monitor database systems, analyze health data, and obtain funding for projects. An online Ph.D. in health informatics gives students the following competencies and skills:
Conduct independent and innovative research projects:Students learn how to pose meaningful research questions, design statistical tests using health data, collect and analyze data, and interpret results. Faculty serve as advisors to guide Ph.D. students in their own projects.
Write and publish scientific articles: Through class projects and guided research, students work on scientific manuscripts and submit them for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Accumulating publications helps students get a job in academia upon graduation.
Present research findings on health informatics at national conferences: Students gain experience presenting research at scientific conferences. Most Ph.D. curricula have requirements for students’ productivity, which includes producing publications and attending conferences.
Design health database systems: Students may participate in health data collection and storage projects in courses or through hands-on assistantships. They learn to manage database systems containing large amounts of health data.
Analyze health data: Students learn to conduct statistical analysis of health data and how to use quantitative analysis software such as Stata or SPSS. They also learn how to perform statistical tests, such as logistic regression.
Write successful grant proposals: Students may have to apply for grants to fund their research or travel to conferences. They can add these awards to their CVs and resumes.
Health Informatics Professional Organizations
Professional organizations in health informatics provide opportunities for professional development, education or certification advancement, job hunting assistance, networking, and organizational leadership positions. Most of these organizations are structured around advancing the profession and often charge a membership fee. Ph.D. students may qualify for a student membership rate. Membership benefits include complimentary webinars and workshops, discounted conference registration fees, and job hunting resources. Many organizations also provide research, including academic journals and publications.
Students and professionals can consider their specialization, research interests, and disciplinary standards to find the right professional organization. These groups typically host annual academic and industry-related conferences, provide continuing education opportunities or certifications, and assist in career development. Individuals can attend events and workshops or serve on committees or boards.
AMIA is a professional association comprised of healthcare professionals dedicated to improving healthcare services through the use of informatics insights. The association provides professional development and networking events, education and certification, and leadership opportunities.
AHIMA is an organization for health information students and professionals. The organization provides conferences and events, certifications and continuing education, additional training and workshops, publications and resources, and career services.
HIMSS is a nonprofit dedicated to serving global health information and technology professionals. The organization provides professional development, certifications, training sessions, scientific resources, scholarships, and career services.
ANIA is an organization for nurses and related professionals dedicated to the integration of nursing science and health information science. The group provides continuing education and certification resources, a journal on nursing informatics, and annual conferences.
IMIA is a global association for health and medical informatics professionals and students. The organization offers special interest groups and working groups based on more specific interests, such as nursing informatics.