Conventional IT Professional Titles and Roles

Help Desk/Support Staff

IT Help desk worker

The help desk is the first line of support for IT issues and basic IT requests. Organization staff contact the help desk if they have problems logging in to systems, are experiencing poor application performance, or would like to make a request for new hardware or devices. Help desk personnel may also manage accounts and add/remove/modify users and roles on systems and networks. Due to the nature of the problems many staff are experiencing, help desk personnel also provide moderate IT training to staff if that will remedy the problem (for example, a staff member may not know how to perform a function in the system).

A help desk request is documented in a service ticket tracking system, which may also contain a knowledgebase (a set of organized information) of common problems and the steps to fix them. If they do not know to fix the problem and it is not in the help desk knowledgeable, help desk workers have a system to escalate difficult issues to more experienced staff. The help desk is a great entry-level position in the IT department because you support all of the business departments, staff of all levels, and all of the IT systems, giving you a broad view into the organization. Help desk staff have to be customer-serviced focused, with good interpersonal and communication skills.

Help desk staff often have associates or bachelors degrees in information systems, computer science , or related majors, and can be proficient with less than 5 years of experience.

Trainer

Trainer

IT Trainer teaching new registration staff how to register and schedule patients

A trainer in the IS department conducts classes to teach staff(and sometimes patients!) specific computer skills. Most often training is an introduction and explanation of how to perform a task using a certain software program or app, -such as how to use the scheduling system to schedule new patients. In addition to training on new software, trainers will also train on software changes and updates that affect users, as well as conducting reinforcement and remedial training occasionally to increase appropriate and efficient use of the software to perform the task.

Trainers need not be computer experts, but they must be very knowledgeable in the new software they are introducing. In addition, trainers should be a trusted expert in the business or medical task that the software is supporting.

For example, when new pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are hired, they require training in how to manage inventory and fulfill prescriptions in the pharmacy information system. They will learn how the pharmacy system supports the tasks and workflows that may be unique to this new job. Therefore, the most effective health IT trainers often have clinical experience as well as IT experience. Although ideal, dual expertise in both clinical practice and software is uncommon and not a requirement for trainers.

To be an IT trainer, you must have patience and great communication skills. Because trainer expertise is interdisciplinary , trainer backgrounds may be technical, clinical, business related, or others.

System Administrator

System Administrator working in data center

System administrators,- also known as server managers and sysadmins, keep the computers and major applications running correctly. This person oversees the data centers, physical computers, and operating systems in organizations. Some of their duties include keeping the operating systems up to date, ensuring enough memory and disk storage, and overseeing the physical environment of the computer.  In healthcare, organizations may have older style servers called mainframes, a verity of newer servers and operating systems, storage management systems, and other platforms.

System administrators may be generalists or specialize in specific operating systems (e.g. Windows, Unix), hardware,or vendor. System administrators may be highly skilled or entry level. They usually have undergraduate training in information systems, computer science, or computer engineering.

System administrators often work remotely, with infrequent visits to the data center only when hardware must be configured. They may work with other IT roles such as designers and analysts, but seldom interface with clinical or business workforce.

Database Administrator

Database administrator working from home

Database administrators (DBA) manage the databases (applications that store data) for an organization. In healthcare, most databases are commercial relational database systems (e.g. Oracle and SQL Server), but there are a growing number of open source, no-SQL, and other non-traditional data repositories. DBAs play a critical role as they maintain the integrity of all of the data across the organization. DBAs (often with the help of system administrators) back up the data in the organization in case of data corruption or loss. The DBA works closely with systems analysts, programmers, and data analyst on projects that require access to data and creation of new databases.

Systems Analyst

Systems analyst gathering requirements

Although the names sound similar, systems analysts are not at all like system administrators. Systems analysts work closely with computer users (doctors, nurses, administrators, etc.) to identify their needs, and then write the needs down in a way that programmers and DBAs can understand how to program. In this sense, systems analysts bridge the gap between the users and the IT staff. Analysts in healthcare sometimes say they are bilingual: they can understand doctors AND they can understand programmers.

Systems analysts 1) gather system requirements from users, 2) design system specifications documents (like blueprints) from the requirements, and 3) deliver the system specifications to the programmers so they can create the software. Although the requirements-design-code process seems like a one-way linear process, most often it is circular iterative process. For example, the systems analyst works with the users and designs small changes that can be used right away. Based on that use, the user-analyst team will then make more changes and add more specifications.

Like trainers, systems analysts must be very familiar with the business and clinical environments, and staff that they serve. Sometimes systems analysts for specialized clinical software are clinicians with additional training in requirements gathering and software design.

Informaticists

Informatics is a term sometimes used as a catch-all umbrella term for all health information systems and health data science. Doctors and nurses who also serve in the role as systems analysts are called “Physician Informaticists” and “Nurse Informaticists”. In fact, systems analysts who are not healthcare providers but still design clinical systems are often called clinical informaticists or medical informaticists. There are formal degree programs in nursing informatics and clinical informatics, and even board certification and fellowships for physician informaticists. The informatics titled roles in healthcare organizations do not yet require formal training or experience, as the ‘informatics’ designation differentiates clinical systems analyst from their business counterparts.

Programmer

Programmer drinking coffee and wondering if he should take that stupid sticker off his work laptop

Programmers, – also called software developers and software engineers, write the programs ( instructions) that when run become software. All computer programs, mobile apps, operating systems, and web pages are written by programmers in special language that computers can read. Programmers write code based on the software requirements and specifications that are created by systems analysts.

Nearly all software in healthcare is commercially developed, which means the code was already written by the software company. However, sometimes healthcare organizations will still develop their own web applications, small business applications, and other programs that may be too unique ( to their organization) to buy pre-made. It is also common for healthcare organizations to modify the code of their commercial software to add capabilities that were not included from the software company.

Other IT Staff Roles

There are many other specialized IT roles found in healthcare organizations. Network administrators and web developers have titles that are self explanatory. Data architects document data definitions, plan data relationships, and ensure data governance. Storage engineers ensure there is enough persistent (permanent) space for all of the data. Information security officers monitor and protect the networks and computer systems from hackers and internal threats. Data analysts gather requirements from staff who need to make a data-informed decision and create reports and visualizations based on the data.

Leadership Roles

  • Chief Information Officer
    • The senior executive responsible for the IS in the organization. CIOs represent the IS function to the CEO and board. As the senior administrator for IT, CIO’s set the vision, strategy, IT budgets, and lead organizational change.
  • Chief Medical Information Officer and Chief Nursing Information Officer
    • A physician or nurse who represents and leads their respective staff on IT. As senior executives, CMIOs and CNIOs bring respective credibility, insight, and leadership to the IS function.
  • Chief Information Security Officer
    • CISOs are senior-level executives responsible for establishing and maintaining the enterprise vision, strategy, and program to ensure information assets and technologies are adequately protected.
  • Chief Technology Officer
    • CTOs are responsible for ensuring that the organization’s technology platforms, and technical standards are appropriate for current operations, and are consistent for progressing into the future state.
  • Chief Research Information Officer / Chief Data Science Officer
    • These enterprise executives are found in academic or high research organization, and are responsible for ensuring that systems, processes, and standards are used that produce quality data for research and analysts, and that appropriate technology and process are available for analysis and use.

 

IS Staff Culture

Managers must know the discipline culture, staff motivators, and preferences to effectively lead. Many type of personalities become information systems professionals and there are no absolute rules on who will be successful. However, there are predominant culture trends that differ from medicine and business cultures. Keep in mind that persons in roles with more business (or clinical) skills will have a culture closer to business, while persons in roles with more technical skills will more closely resemble the IS culture.

Nerd Awesomeness

Casual, skills focused, results oriented. The culture of IT is to dress down, and a casual workplace is an expectation. Business dress is considered pretentious and unnecessary. Even CEOs of IT organizations often dress in comfortable clothes such as jeans and are respected by their intellect rather than experience or power. Similarly, the value of IT staff is related to the uniqueness and level of their skills, and their ability to create innovative applications. IT staff expect salary to be related to skills and not tenure.

Analytical, creative explorers. IT staff are natural, lifelong learners. Programming languages and other information technologies change often, and new skills can become outdated in just a few years. Staff must stay up to date either by self-directed learning, academic professional courses, or commercial training. This essential need for training can be leveraged as a effective benefit (or reward) for IT staff, but is essential for retention. New IT hires know that if they don’t learn new skills, their current skills (and worth) will become outdated. IT staff value money, but they also put a premium on innovative projects, learning new skills, and work flexibility.

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