“Tell them what you do,” says my 87-year old, beaming mother, as she introduces me to a couple of new friends in her assisted living center. I start by saying that I’m a registered nurse, but am currently working as an informatics nurse, implementing the electronic health records, and other technologies that nurses use. Of course, I had no way of knowing that the 90-year old woman facing me was a retired physician who says, “Well that’s crazy, EHR’s will never work, I’m just glad I retired before I was forced to use one!” (She had been retired almost 30 years.) Needless to say, my mother’s smiling face, turned to confusion, as I muttered something about needing to get my mother back to her room.
Truth is, I love being a nurse! After more than 30 years, I am still proud to say I’m a nurse, and for the last 15 years, have added that I’m a nurse informaticist. Often, I get the “what’s that?” question from people both within and outside of healthcare, who do not realize that they are most likely the recipient of the informatics nurse’s knowledge and skills. My mother may not know what I do, but that’s OK, because she understands that what I do is important. I contribute to the body of nursing knowledge and advance nursing practice by helping create and support a better experience for clinicians, and ultimately better patient outcomes.
Being an informatics nurse is not for the faint of heart! It is hard work, undoubtedly the most challenging work I’ve ever done, as well as the most rewarding. As a Chief Nursing Informatics Officer (CNIO), my days are full of a constant stream of challenges, as I navigate both the worlds of nursing and IT, such as working within the structured projects of IT, as well as responding to the ever changing needs of clinicians caring for patients. In a single day, I may need to be an expert in regulatory requirements, define how interfaces work, while explaining to a patient-care-technician why it’s critical to scan the patient’s armband prior to entering vital signs or a bedside lab test result.
I simultaneously address issues within nursing, such as why it’s important for nurses to help patients access the patient portal, while explaining to IT that registering patients for a portal is not a nursing responsibility. The irony of this does not escape me, but the reality is both sides of these types of complex workflows are true, and nursing informaticists can help define and explain all sides of an issue, ultimately resulting in optimal workflows and greater adoption of these complex systems by staff whom rely on them. I transition from meeting to meeting, encounter to encounter, constantly shifting and managing whatever experience is in front of me, whether it be to help define a new patient education workflow, or possibly presenting in front of hospital leaders asking them to support integration of medication given through IV pumps into the electronic health record, to provide the final safety net for nurses giving complex medications.
When I was a staff nurse in critical care, I would go home at the end of the day, with a range of emotion from joy to sadness, but with a feeling that what I did made a difference. When I go home at the end of the day today, it is still with a range of emotions from exhilaration to frustration, but with the same feeling that what I do makes a difference, albeit in a different way, but impacting the health of our patients just the same. So, after 30 years, and a wide variety of experiences, I still love nursing informatics and am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded, as the profession of nursing expands to meet the needs of healthcare’s changing environment.