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HEALTH CONNECTION

New course offers unique degree

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun


Conestoga College is pioneering a new Health Informatics Management degree with an inaugural class of 30 students scheduled to start this September.

The Kitchener college's Bill Jeffrey says Canada's health-care delivery system is changing with more treatments and tests than ever before, and over the years the need for more computerized information on patients has become a reality.
Bill Jeffrey, associate vice-president at Kitchener's Conestoga College, says there are probably 2,000 vacancies in health informatics across Canada at the moment.


"When you look at the past it was very apparent that we could get some software technicians who really knew the software piece but didn't know anything about health," says Jeffrey, Conestoga's associate vice-president, School of Health Sciences, Community Services and Biotechnology. "This degree is unique. It has the health piece, so we're going to be doing courses that enhance the knowledge and skill base of health 'informaticians' in future; it's got an information technology piece; and it's also got a management piece."

In short, the new degree will go a long way to addressing a gap in health care provision here and elsewhere. As George Smitherman, Ontario's Minister of Health and Long Term Care, said last September: "Health information technology has the potential to become one of the most powerful unifying forces in our health-care system. Information technology is essential to driving our transformation agenda and it is essential to health care in Ontario."

Attracts a mixed bunch

Jeffrey says there are probably 2,000 vacancies across Canada at the moment in health informatics.

The students that Jeffrey and Paul Osborne, Conestoga's directors of marketing, expect to attract are a mixed bunch. Both say some people already working in the informatics field are a sure bet, as are some nurses and other health-care professionals. However, Jeffrey suggests it will be high school graduates who make up the bulk of admissions.

He says these applicants will need a 75% or better average, and Osborne adds they will need credits in two sciences, one math, one English and two other subjects. Those who are successful will also need to free up three weeks for a "foundation module" at the college. Osborne says that means they come in 21 days early to have their math and science skills assessed by the appropriate faculty. As well, students will have to take a clinical practicum every year and complete three co-op placements.

Tuition for the four-year Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree is $5,500 a year, about the same amount most universities charge for arts and sciences studies.
QUICK FACTS
  • The Health Informatics Management program at Conestoga College begins in September 2005.
  • Conestoga College will accept a maximum of 30 students.
  • Tuition is university sized at $5,500 a year.
  • High school graduates will need at least a 75% average.
  • A three-week "foundation module" before school starts to assess successful applicants' math and science skills is mandatory.


  • Women fill some occupations in health care such as nursing and dental hygiene, and it looks like, at least initially, Health Informatics Management at Conestoga will develop the same way. Osborne says about 80% of the calls he's had so far have been from women.

    The qualification is an applied degree and will be conferred by the college itself, says Jeffrey, rather than a nearby university. Conestoga nursing students, for example, receive their nursing degrees from McMaster University in Hamilton.

    Graduates can expect to work at developing electronic patients' records systems for hospitals; managing information systems for tracking infectious disease; designing and maintaining databases for medical labs, hospitals and pharmacies; evaluating clinical trial results for pharmaceutical companies; and creating software for use in drug research and discovery.

    As for starting salaries -- which are almost five years down the line, it should be remembered -- Jeffrey says he expects them to be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

    That's not bad. Those other pioneers, who designed and built the horse-drawn Conestoga wagon, got by on considerably less.



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