1. Cummins, Mollie R. PhD, RN, FAAN
  2. Sward, Katherine PhD, RN
  3. Guo, Jia-Wen PhD, RN

Article Content

Key Points


* Founded in 1990 by Sheila Corcoran, Judy Graves, Judy Ozbolt and others


* University of Utah pioneered interprofessional informatics education


* The program continues to lead in nursing informatics research and education


The University of Utah celebrates 25 years of specialty education in nursing informatics (NI) this year and remains one of the most highly ranked NI programs in the United States.1 The program has made major contributions to the field of NI by educating NI leaders and incubating cutting-edge NI research. Of particular note, the University of Utah College of Nursing pioneered interprofessional informatics education in partnership with the School of Medicine's Department of Biomedical Informatics. As we celebrate this remarkable milestone, we pay tribute to the pioneers and innovators of NI and look to the future of NI education and research.


A Brief History of Nursing Informatics at the University of Utah. Nursing informatics was recognized as a specialty by the American Nurses Association in January 1992. Nursing informatics graduate training programs began even earlier: the University of Maryland's NI program was the first, admitting students in 1988. The University of Utah NI program launched shortly afterward, admitting the first MS cohort in 1990. Founders of the University of Utah program included Drs Sheila Corcoran, Judy Graves, and Judy Ozbolt and other pioneers in the field.2


Many influential leaders in NI are connected to the University of Utah NI program as alumnae or faculty. Former program directors Drs Carole Gassert and Nancy Staggers and alumna Dr Susan Matney are profiled in the American Medical Informatics Association Nursing Informatics History Project, and their interviews are available online: Definitions of the field from Dr Judith Graves and later revisions by the University of Utah faculty Graves, Corcoran, Staggers, Thompson, and Snyder-Halpern helped to define NI as a specialty practice of nursing.3-5 The University of Utah NI faculty identified NI competencies6,7 and later advanced informatics competencies for nursing through the TIGER initiative.6,7 Former program director Dr Laura Heermann Langford leads national standards work with HL7 International.


The Utah NI program, from its inception, focused predominantly on clinical NI. At the time the program was founded, the environment in Salt Lake City was uniquely suited for clinically focused graduate NI education. The College of Nursing had a robust graduate nursing program in place, offering both MS and PhD degrees. The School of Medicine offered graduate degrees in medical informatics (subsequently renamed biomedical informatics (BMI), in reflection of trends in naming of the field).8 A vibrant faculty engaged in active research projects funded by the National Library of Medicine that included nursing decision support, and Salt Lake City offered unprecedented access to electronic health records and other health information technology (HIT) that could serve as a "living laboratory" for informatics students. Courses combined a strong theoretical basis, with curriculum designed on the systems development life cycle and Graves and colleagues'2 seminal definition of NI, with significant hands-on components in every course.


Pioneers in Interprofessional Informatics Education. From its inception, the NI program collaborated closely with local experts, who consulted regarding curriculum and program design, and who advised and mentored graduate students. Initial collaborators included the chair of the department of medical informatics/BMI (Dr Homer Warner), multiple experts engaged in clinical NI practice at local hospitals, collaborators from the health sciences library, and other local experts.2 While the NI program and BMI programs resided in separate academic programs (the College of Nursing and the School of Medicine), the programs were physically located in adjacent buildings, and the faculty and students collaborated on course work, projects, and graduate committees. Over time, courses covering core informatics content became increasingly cotaught and cross-listed between the programs. In 2005, the collaboration and increasingly interprofessional nature of informatics education at the University of Utah reached a milestone when the 2 programs became colocated in a single physical space. The College of Nursing and Department of Biomedical Informatics established a joint postbaccalaureate certificate program in 2009.


On the Shoulders of Giants. Currently, the NI and BMI programs continue to be tightly integrated, collaborative, and colocated. However, the programs remain housed in their respective colleges. There are strong drivers to maintain an informatics graduate program within the College of Nursing. The NI program continues to prepare nurses in the specialty of NI, augmenting core informatics content with domain-specific perspectives and expertise. Historically the College of Nursing program conceptualized NI as an advanced role within nursing.2 However, the NI program's continued presence within the College of Nursing has become increasingly important as informatics competencies are recognized as essential competencies for nurses at all levels of practice. At the same time, the NI program's continued interprofessional engagement is essential to ensure that NI perspectives and expertise reach informatics students outside College of Nursing boundaries. The University of Utah's interprofessional informatics education model meets these needs.


The current faculty team, led by cospecialty directors Drs Mollie Cummins and Katherine Sward, is notable for substantially advancing scientific research in informatics. Current projects are developing the informatics knowledge base in areas such as health information exchange, poison control, and learning health systems (Cummins), decision support in pediatric and adult critical care (Sward), global health and mHealth (Sward), cancer nursing (Guo), technology-enabled education (Black), and other areas. As collaborators and consultants, the NI program faculty are broadly influencing scientific research at the University of Utah and beyond. Adjunct faculty continue to provide international contributions in standards and terminology (Matney, Heermann Langford), human-computer interaction (Staggers), and other areas.


The Next 25 Years. The demand for nursing informaticists has grown tremendously in recent years, largely due to the HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) signed in 2009.9 This federal initiative incentivized adoption of certified HIT by hospitals and healthcare providers as a means to improve healthcare outcomes and decrease healthcare costs. Nursing informaticists increasingly play important roles in the process of HIT system adoption, including workflow assessment; designing, testing, and configuring HIT systems; training and supporting end-users; and implementing HIT systems.10 As the overall demand for NI expertise grows and changes, we intend to grow and change in tandem.


Nursing informatics is critically important to nursing and to the entire healthcare system. The University of Utah NI program has been a leader in NI research and education for 25 years. We are dedicated to excellence in specialty NI education and to the systematic integration of NI education into clinical nursing education programs. Through interprofessional informatics education, we will continue to influence the HIT workforce understanding of nursing's unique information and workflow requirements. We look forward to celebrating this silver anniversary with the entire NI community and our extended network of alumnae and friends.




1. US News and World Report. Best Grad Schools Nursing 2016: Nursing Informatics. 2015. Accessed August 18, 2015. [Context Link]


2. Graves JR, Amos LK, Huether S, Lange LL, Thompson CB. Description of a graduate program in clinical nursing informatics. Comput Nurs. 1995; 13( 2): 60-70. [Context Link]


3. Graves JR, Corcoran S. The study of nursing informatics. Image J Nurs Sch. 1989; 21( 4): 227-231. [Context Link]


4. Staggers N, Thompson CB. The evolution of definitions for nursing informatics: a critical analysis and revised definition. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2002; 9( 3): 255-261. [Context Link]


5. Staggers N, Thompson CR, Happ B, Bartz C. New definition for nursing informatics needed. Image J Nurs Sch. 1998; 30( 2): 110. [Context Link]


6. Staggers N, Gassert CA, Curran C. Informatics competencies for nurses at four levels of practice. J Nurs Educ. 2001; 40( 7): 303-316. [Context Link]


7. Staggers N, Gassert CA, Curran C. A Delphi study to determine informatics competencies for nurses at four levels of practice. Nurs Res. 2002; 51( 6): 383-390. [Context Link]


8. Warner HR. Graduate program in medical informatics at the University of Utah. Methods Inf Med. 1994; 33( 3): 258-261; discussion 282-254. [Context Link]


9. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Health IT Legislation: HITECH Act. 2013. Accessed August 18, 2015. [Context Link]


10. Hunt E, Sproat S, Kitzmiller R. The Nursing Informatics Implementation Guide. New York, NY: Springer; 2010. [Context Link]