The University of Wisconsin has created a new Masters of Science in Clinical and Health Informatics. The program is fully online and designed to be interdisciplinary and accessible.

Interim Program Director Mary Thompson said the 30 credit program brings together knowledge and expertise from across campus and is one of the most interdisciplinary degrees found at UW. The degree was developed with help from the School of Business, College of Engineering, School of Medicine and Public Health, School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy. 

“It’s pretty innovative to look at improving not just health care practices but health care decision-making, health policy and data security,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said the decision to make the degree fully online was a deliberate one. Many jobs in the clinical health informatics field do a great portion of their work online, so the program hopes to emulate that environment with this teaching style, Thompson explained. 

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Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Programming Marty Gustafson said this fall, UW will have 29 online degree and certificate programs, and the university is planning to expand its online presence to new fields in the coming years.

Online degrees are a good way to reach more adults throughout the region, Gustafson said. By growing the number of fields in which UW offers online programs, the university is expanding the number of students who can access UW education, Gustafson said.

“I think we have a lot of disciplines where we haven’t gone [online] yet and I’m really excited to be … engaging our departments in where it makes sense to maybe have some additional offerings,” Gustafson said.

Thompson said another reason UW chose to teach the degree online is to make the degree accessible to people balancing a full time job and returning to school. Making the degree fully online is one way the degree can incorporate people from different backgrounds, Thompson said. 

“This is a great way to include rather than exclude,” Thompson said. ” So the degree is 100% online to make sure that it’s inclusive of that returning adult learner is our primary focus.”

Though the degree is, in-part, aimed at returning students, Thompson said many undergraduates have reached out to express interest in the program as well. Thompson said in its first year, the program is aiming to start with 25 students in the fall and grow to a class of around 150 students across programs.

Gustafson said while the majority of students taking online courses at UW are from the midwest region, many of the programs offered reach a national audience as well. According to Gustafson, the Division of Continuing Studies online professional degrees reaches students from a variety of different backgrounds including those looking to change careers and students who are hoping to advance in the current profession. 

School of Medicine and Public Health Associate Dean Dr. Elizabeth Burnside wrote about the masters program in an email to the Badger Herald.

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“The UW-Madison is already the training-ground for skilled, competent, and creative innovators that are fueling the next phases of the information age to the borders of our state and beyond,” Burnside said in the email. “The C&HI-MS will continue that tradition in the healthcare space by training professionals with the knowledge and skills to advance their careers, improve the health of Wisconsin, and benefit society at large.”

Many of the projects throughout the course will use real-world data that has been scrubbed to help students build experience in dealing with scenarios they plausibly could face in future careers, Thompson said. Burnside said the program will involve networking with experts and case-based learning experiences which will set students up for success.

The master’s degree will set students up for a variety of careers after graduation, Thompson said. Thompson said there are jobs in healthcare administration, resource decision making and quality improvement, to name a few. 

“The cornerstone is that [careers] will be looking at data through a healthcare lens,” Thompson said. “It’s not just data science, which is more generally focused — it’s healthcare focused. … The expanse is pretty wide.”

Burnside said one priority of the program is to earn accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management. To ensure quality of education and make the program is as applicable to real life as possible, the university worked to include CAHIIM principles in the curriculum for the Clinical and Health Informatics degree.

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Burnside said the program was created with the values of the university in mind and believes UW is a good home for this degree because of the quality of education the university provides to students.

“Our program discovers, examines critically, preserves and transmits the Clinical and Health Informatics knowledge, wisdom and values that will improve the quality of life for all,” Burnside said.