Informing students about informatics

Professor Christo El Morr’s second-year course, Introduction to Health Informatics, is the first time most health studies students encounter the field of informatics, and he’s determined to make the experience a positive one.

Health informatics, he says, allows health-care practitioners to “use information and communication technologies to deliver care at the right time, using the right tools in an efficient and effective way.” To provide the students with a better feel for the breadth of opportunities and the workplace applications that the field provides, El Morr brings guest lecturers working in the informatics field to class to offer an experiential component to the subject matter.

Christo El Morr
Christo El Morr

“Rather than just reading about the concepts, my students are exposed to people who are living the experience and working in the field,” El Morr said.

El Morr invites professionals into his classroom to speak with his students about their work in health informatics and related topics, including: Innovation; gamification; managerial decision-making; data analysis and metrics; research; quality improvement; and decision support. The speakers represent hospitals, start-ups and not-for-profit organizations, showcasing the range of career possibilities that exist in health informatics, as well as the ways the subject can be applied to other fields.

“Both parents and students ask about jobs in the field,” El Morr said. “These interactions can help students understand what the future is in the job market and what the opportunities are for employment and the connections between informatics and health management and policy. In addition to being exposed to my research through my lectures, students are able to see the field through the eyes of my varied collaborators. It’s an exciting, dynamic experience.”

Speakers come to class for the first hour, giving a presentation that is followed by a question and answer session. El Morr says the students in this second-year course are deeply engaged by the interactive nature and experiential component of what guest speakers bring to the course.

“The students see the material in their readings, but the presenters bring their topics to life and discuss the challenges and opportunities,” El Morr said. “It’s a dynamic field that is changing all the time.”

The speakers, too, enjoy the opportunity of presenting to an audience full of eager minds.

“It’s always a great pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to engage with students at all levels,” said Courtney Cole, chief executive officer of the health informatics start-up, “I am happy that I was able to add some value and to contribute to their knowledge about the health system and its many challenges. I hope the students learned from the insights into emerging technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence and how they can be applied to address complex health issues.”

The introductory health informatics course is one of the core courses in the School of Health Policy and Management, required of all the school’s undergraduates. El-Morr is also hopeful that a positive experience with the subject matter will tempt some of his students to pursue a concentration in health informatics. His own research focuses on the use of online tools to provide care.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus