How to Become a Public Health Informaticist

What is public health informatics?

There are many uses to which a health information administrator can put a public health informatics degree.  Public health informatics is a field that combines aspects of epidemiology, public health, and computer science.  Public health informaticists use computer technology and other informational systems tools to collect, store, and analyze information about public health.  This information can be used to investigate population trends, factors influencing life expectancy, and causes of infant mortality.  In addition, public health informatics offers valuable epidemiological data that can be used to spot and analyze trends in diseases and other health phenomena, as well as to devise hypothesis regarding possible causes and aggravating factors and possible cures or prevention methods. 

Data gleaned through public health informatics can help officials respond to and devise strategies to address public health crises, including infectious disease outbreaks, public health informatics at  
work cases of tainted medication or meat, or natural disasters that compromise water and food supplies.

Health information administrators who work in the field of public health informatics often work at governmental agencies where they help compile and analyze public health data.  They may also find positions at research facilities, think tanks, public policy and non-profit organizations, and academic institutions where they may play a part in proposing, formulating, and modifying public policy as it relates to such issues as public health, disaster response, and disease control. 

What kind of degree is needed to work in the field of public health informatics?

Many schools, both traditional campus based and online universities, offer public health informatics degrees.  Those seeking a public health informatics program may find what they are looking for at medical schools, schools of public health, schools of public policy and administration, or business schools.  It is possible to become a public health informaticist by pursuing a general degree in health informatics and choosing electives that pertain to public health.  However, students who choose programs that offer specialized degrees in public health informatics stand to get a better grounding in their subject area and will have better opportunities for advancement in their chosen field.  Courses offered in a public health informatics degree program include biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, public health policy, data mining techniques, and information technology.

Where do public health informaticists work?

With a public health informatics degree, health information administrators may find work at large governmental agencies devoted to public health and policy, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) located in Atlanta, Georgia.  A special division within the CDC known as the National Center for Public Health Informatics (NCPHI) is devoted to the promotion and development of the field of public health informatics as a valuable tool in the formulation of public policy and educational efforts concerning important public health issues.  The NCPHI has recently formed the Public Health Information Network (PHIN), which disseminates news, and information concerning goings on in the public health informatics arena. 

Many public health informaticists work for governmental health departments, at the federal, state, municipal, and local levels.  Public health informaticists are in charge of the collection and recording of vital health statistics, including data relating to births and deaths, and of information relating to the incidence and spread of communicable diseases within specific communities and in the general public.  When a public health emergency or crisis hits—such as an epidemic, pandemic, or natural catastrophe that could lead to the spread of disease—the work of public health informaticists takes on special importance.  Using information tools and resources, public health informaticists can predict the spread and incidence of infectious diseases and propose steps to take to reduce contagion and limit communicability.  They also collect data from emergency rooms and other health facilities to determine the severity and extent of health emergencies or crises at an early stage.  The field of public health information has been instrumental in setting up electronic disease surveillance systems that have helped greatly in the effective treatment and containment of contagious diseases. Public health informatics plays an important role in gauging the effects of and proposing solutions for such problems as child lead poisoning, radiation exposure, and air and water pollution.  Some public health informaticists specialize in certain diseases or certain sets of diseases, for instance, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, or influenza. 

What kind of salary does a public health informaticist make?

Salaries for public health informaticists average between $67,000 and $73,000 a year based on nationwide data.  This means that public health informaticists make salaries that are up to eight percent higher than the national average for all professions.  However, salaries can vary depending upon employer.  For instance, the average salary for a public health informaticist working for the federal government is $87,500, which is significantly higher than the general national average.  Other factors, such as location, local standard of living, experience level, and educational credentials can affect actual salary levels. 

Health Information Management / Informatics Schools