Concerned about artificial intelligence taking over our jobs? Worried about the economic cyclicality of each of the radiological subspecialties? Do you fear the instability of your future radiology attending career due to corporate takeovers and mergers? Well, I have a solution for you (and no, I am not an infomercial!!!)… Welcome to the new fellowship called Informatics!!!
Why am I writing about the informatics fellowship and skipping all the other subspecialties? Well… the informatics fellowship warrants an independent post because it is truly the only radiology subspecialty that is in a permanent secular growth trend. It is also the only fellowship that has relatively little information published on the subject matter. In fact, once several of my residents and students heard about the existence of the fellowship program and understood its potential benefits, they began to salivate!!!
So, this article is dedicated to the topic of the informatics fellowship. Specifically, we will discuss the definition of informatics, what the fellowship entails, requirements for the fellowship, how to find where to complete the fellowship, and what job opportunities are available for graduates of these programs. I think once you understand the potential benefits of this fellowship program, you might consider it yourself!!!
Discussion of Definition and Importance of Informatics
So, what is the definition of informatics? According to Merriam Webster, it is as follows- “the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of recorded knowledge”. Prior to several years ago, I have to admit that I had never heard of the term or definition of informatics. In fact, I think I am probably not alone. It is only since the terms “the cloud” and “big data” have arrived into the mainstream, that I think the word informatics has been used more widely.
Why all of a sudden is this body of knowledge so important? In our age of electronic interconnectedness, large swaths of data are created and processed every day. Particularly in the radiology realm, there are numerous electronic/digital images and reams of clinical/health information. Someone has to both understand and manage all this information. Although computer engineers presently manage a lot of this information, they tend not to understand how to manage the data for physicians, administrators, and patients to understand. Herein lies the niche of the radiology informaticist, translating the imaging and clinical data from the computer engineer to the clinical realm.
What Do These Informatics Fellowships Teach?
Fortuitously, the same day that I started to write about informatics, I received a letter from the APDR explaining that there would be a new initiative to create a summary online 1 week course in informatics for residents. Some of the topics covered by the course as listed in the letter include Standards; Computers and Networking; PACS and Archives; Security; Life Cycle of a Radiology Exam, Data and Data Plumbing; Algorithms for Image and Nonimage Analytics; and the Business of Informatics. This course contained many of the topics that some informatics fellowship programs teach. But, the curricula of many of the informatics fellowships differed significantly from this course and were more expansive.
To add a bit more confusion, each individual fellowship program also covers differing topics from one another and varies the emphasis of each of these subjects. Some of the topics that these fellowships include: RIS systems, Image Compression, Teleradiology, Quality Improvement, Operations, Clinical Engineering, HL7, Regulations, DICOM, Critical Results Reporting, Decision Support Systems, Radiation Dose Tracking, Mobile Health Applications, Image Segmentation, Imaging Room Ergonomics, 3D Printing, Natural Language Processing, Informatics Funding, Biostatistics, Health Policy, and Experimental Design. There was some overlap between the different programs. But coverage varied widely. I will also refer you to the ACGME formal program requirements in Clinical Informatics for a more formal explanation of all the areas of teaching required at all fellowships.
What are the Requirements To Become An Informatics Fellow?
The prerequisite requirements vary from program to program. Of the programs I visited on the web, most but not all, had a requirement to be board eligible in a specialty (not necessarily radiology), to be a graduate from an American Medical School, and to have an interest in the discipline of informatics. Most fellowships did not have a specific requirement for formal training in computer science. According to the ACGME, the program length was 1 or 2 years to graduate from a radiology program.
Where to Find the Fellowships?
I found several ways to find the informatics fellowships that are offered for diagnostic radiology program graduates. If you happen to be a member of the AMA, you can look up the fellowships on the FREIDA database. (It turns out I am not a member!) Alternatively, you can do a web search on informatics fellowships and many of the large institutions describe their own programs. And finally, you can go to the ACGME website and look up informatics fellowships there.
Job Opportunities for the Informatics Fellowship Graduate
This is where things get really interesting… Job opportunities are endless. You want to be part of a large private practice or maybe a teleradiology practice? Interested in becoming a practice leader?- It’s all yours! Not many employers can replace the only radiologist that can fix a PACS or RIS system and can also actually read films.
You want to become an entrepreneur and start your own company? You will have access to all the tools and methods to create a technological niche for yourself whether it be an app, a PACS addon, a new piece of software, or other countless unimaginable outlets.
You want to go into academics? The world is yours. Academics are desperate to have rads translate their IT department workings into something that is useful and efficient for clinicians. Think about the possibility of chairman or CIO.
You want to work for big business? Think Apple, Google, Cerner, and more! Large organizations are contstantly on the lookout for good talent that can translate the engineering esoteric data into clinical reality. You will be able to develop needed applications, improve health and radiology related products to get more clientele, and more:
Think about it… you will be at the forefront and crossroads of technology and clinical medicine- a job that only a few can currently fill. It will be very difficult to replace you.
Diagnostic readers can be outsourced to India. Robotics can replace human procedures. But humans will always be needed to rule the machines (unless our future is to be the same as The Terminator!)
Of course in the end, like anything else, you need to like what you are doing in order to be good at it. And, informatics is certainly not for everyone. But, if you have a remote interest in the intersection of computers and radiology, really consider this subspecialty. The possibilities are endless, job opportunities abound, and you have the ability to be in charge of your own destiny, potentially not subject to the whims of government or even private industry. You can be your own captain!!!