Informatics is a broad field concerned with the use of computer software in the creation, management and sharing of information. While it can be used within a variety of fields, informatics is probably best known as a complementary appendage to the healthcare industry where it now plays a central role in helping to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery. Indeed, the array of Health Informatics courses on offer in Ireland attests to this fact.
One such option is the MSc in Health Informatics provided by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Computer Science and Statistics (in conjunction with the School of Medicine). The course is open to people who hold a good honours degree in a professional health sciences or computer engineering discipline, or to those with appropriate qualifications augmented by three years’ professional experience (in essence, applicants must indicate to the admissions committee that they have the ability to complete the course and benefit from it). The programme runs for two years on a part-time basis, thereby accommodating the large number of students already in full-time employment.
Course participants typically represent two distinct disciplines: information technology and healthcare. This initial division encourages crossover discussion, which thereby promotes mutual understanding and appreciation (note that those from a IT background must take a module on Basic Medical Sciences, while those from a clinical background are required to undergo an Introduction to Programming component). Such integration is also important as the first year of the course focuses heavily on practical, team-based assignments. In year two, students are required to take a module in research methods and must submit a dissertation of approximately 20,000 words.
The University of Limerick also offers an MSc in Health Informatics, pursued on a full-time basis over one year. The course is open to administrators, managers and professionals in healthcare who have a primary undergraduate degree (2.2 honours or higher); those who have a primary undergraduate degree (2.2 honours or higher) in a health sciences discipline; and those with at least five years’ relevant work experience (who will be required to undertake an interview as part of their assessment for suitability). Course modules – roughly half of which will be delivered via distance learning – include Electronic Health Record Management, Strategic Issues in Health Informatics and Research Methods in Health Informatics.
Another option is the MSc in Medical Science (Health Informatics) offered by NUI Galway. The course is pursued on a part-time basis over two years. Participants usually have a primary degree in healthcare, medicine or an equivalent qualification at 2.1 level or above in a relevant area. Alternatively, students can opt to study for a Postgraduate Diploma. This is also part time, but is run over a shorter period of time (two semesters – September to December and January to April). Distance learning is a significant component of both programmes.
While courses in health informatics frequently lead to specific careers within the IT departments of hospitals or healthcare environments, they are equally dedicated to underpinning the existing work practices of those already employed in the industry – be they doctors, anaesthetists or psychiatrists.
Of course healthcare is not the only area in which informatics can be applied; there are numerous courses that reflect the variety of spheres in which it is employed. For instance, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) offers an MSc in Construction Informatics, which can be taken either full time (over eighteen months) or part time (over the course of thirty months). Applicants must have an honours (2.2 or above) Level 8 undergraduate degree as well as relevant work experience in construction. The course is highly useful for those hoping to pursue careers in areas such as architecture, engineering, construction management, facility management or quantity surveying. It also explores topics such as the use of mobile computing in construction and project planning/scheduling.
In recent years, informatics has also come to play an increasingly important role in the study and understanding of biological processes. Bioinformatics, to give it its proper name, focuses on applying intensive computation and statistical techniques to studying the information processes in biotic systems. Dublin City University offers a one-year full-time Bioinformatics MSc, which has two streams – Computing and Life Sciences. The course is designed to give people from both these streams the multidisciplinary skills required for them to thrive in the bioinformatics and biotechnology industries.
As Bioinformatics is currently an area of rigorous research activity, students may also consider taking Informatics as a research option at either MSc or PhD levels, both of which can be taken full time or part time at NUI Galway. To do so, candidates must have achieved a high honours standard (2.2 or above, or equivalent international qualification, for an MSc) at the examination for the primary degree, or must otherwise provide evidence of their suitability to satisfy the admissions committee.
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