Professionalism and professional development

Codes of conduct that recognise effective information handling are infrequently seen in health. Individual professions have specific responsibilities with respect to handling sensitive data or the systems which provide such information to support decision-making. However, there are some practices that should apply generically. Jean Roberts looks at different aspects of professionalism and some of the tools currently available to support its development.

Health informatics (HI) is an emerging area but there have been individuals designing, delivering and running informatics solutions, carrying out research and ensuring that the end-users are positioned to use the systems effectively and efficiently, since the late 1960s. However, only relatively recently have there been significant moves to create a holistic community and put in place the rubric by which the constituencies within the profession(s) can move forward.

There are a number of stakeholder organisations in the HI space, currently with some functional overlaps, including BCS Health, UK Faculty of Health Informatics, UK Health Informatics Society, UK Council of Health Informatics Professions. A collective review involving many of these organisations is looking to rationalise and create clarity across the community.

Value to the individual

The multi-dimensional health informatics community contains eight main constituencies (ICT, information management, knowledge management, portfolio/programme/project managers, clinical informaticians, education/training/development/research staff, health records personnel, and those who manage health informatics services) each with a particular focus.

Individuals will be asked to relate to one home constituency, but that relationship may change over time as their career develops. The NHS HI Career Framework, developed across the home countries, describes typical job roles at progressive levels in a matrix, which individuals can use to inform what potential next steps in their development could entail.

By reviewing current and possible target job roles an individual can determine whether they are ‘equipped’ to do the role they are considering applying for and if not they can see where they need to gain more experience or qualifications to maximise likelihood of success in an application.

Registering with the UK Council for Health Informatics Professions strengthens an individual’s position. Each registrant demonstrates their commitment to adhere to a code of conduct and continuing professional development related specifically to the health informatics domain. Increasingly potential employers will be looking for such a commitment, as is the case already in Wales.

There will be hybrid professionals who also have professional responsibilities and development opportunities to other professions; such as the knowledge managers to the Chartered Institute of Library and information professionals or the BCS as Chartered Institute for IT. A personal eclectic mix of registrations can strengthen the commitment to professionalism and provide the potential for mobility out with the specific health domain.

Value to the organisation

The same data that is used to describe typical job roles via the Career Framework can be used by an employer to project their overall resource needs and map existing staff against that profile, to identify areas where the organisation could be lacking in skills and competence. This exercise can initiate a recruitment exercise with a clear brief to reduce the gaps or increase specific resources in a particular developmental growth area. Alternatively, it can indicate a need for re-orientation of teams as demand for informatics to support health changes over time.

Upcoming areas of demand include technical expertise in business information analysis for strategic population profiling, competence to support future connected health (telemedicine-related) projects and complex programme management of multiple projects at local levels. Potential employers are increasingly aware that registered HI professionals are recognised by their peers and will carry out personal development in order to stay up-to-date.

Languages of professionalism

In a complex multi-employer landscape like health, operational public sector health and social care, commercial solution and service provider and academic / research organisations compete for scarce qualified and experienced people. Consistent, comparable ways of describing achievements facilitate a level playing field for both potential employers and employees.

The case for distinctive domain-specific factors within health informatics has been well-made. There is, and will continue to be, movement both in and out of the community in order to meet escalating demands for informaticians. Skills requirements and personal competences must be continually mapped from generic profiles (e.g. Skills for the Information Age, BCS IT membership/fellowship criteria and the Skills for Health NHS National Occupational Standards) to the expression of the NHS Career Framework and UKCHIP’s standards to facilitate comparison and levelling. 

The same standard expressions should be used for both NHS and third party HI professionals to ensure parity. Further credentials such as Chartered status (CITP, CEng, CSci) may be achieved later in a career. Pre-accredited academic courses or personal portfolio submissions of experiential evidence can be used to demonstrate continuing fitness to practice.

An individual’s value to a potential employer must be understood and assessed appropriately. An area of current risk is that the contribution of such diverse expressions of competences is not fully understood or consistently interpreted by employers. More work is needed to ensure professionals are considered equally for new posts.  

Complexity of applicants

Job applicants come both from within the HI domain and increasingly from other sectors because of developmental decisions or through the downsizing of other institutions. This can lead to applicants responding to recruitment advertisements and competing for positions for which they may be over-qualified. It can be a difficult judgement call.

Some health professionals may develop tangential interest in informatics, hence enhanced informatics components such as formal project management or technical standards may be a necessary addition to their CV. The Career Framework and the upcoming UKCHIP online tools will help discussions at personal development planning meetings with line managers, whether the individual is at the start of their HI career or well into it.

How to plot your professional course

UKCHIP is defining specific standards to be demonstrated by a mix of the above for each of its levels of registration. These will additionally, through online tools support any individual wanting to assess the types of jobs that they may be eligible for.

It is intended that subsequent versions of the tools will also provide guidance to candidates on how their skills might be enhanced through academic educational or commercial training courses.

Using the Career Framework as a road map, users can log their development activities, from presenting, writing and commenting through to attending group meetings, providing work-based assistance to colleagues and keeping up with appropriate web feeds, all of which can ultimately help prepare them for suitable job roles when they appear.

On reflection

In the March 2009 edition of HINOW, I asked whether the health informatics profession was growing up. It has definitely developed, but is still not mature. As the Developing Professionals Group of ASSIST indicates, we all must do more to share experiences, knowledge and work towards a brand identity.

Please watch out for discussions on Linked In (groups such as BCS Health Informatics Forum, UKCHIP and ASSIST), on the eSpace area and through the UK Faculty of Health Informatics, in addition to reading HINOW.

Jean Roberts is a senior lecturer in health informatics at the University of Lancashire and is a board member of UKCHIP and the UK Faculty of Health Informatics.  

UKCHIP has been established to promote professionalism in health informatics and the certification of those who work in the profession. It operates a voluntary public register of health informatics professionals who meet clearly defined standards of competence and agree to work to a common code of conduct. UKCHIP provides an independent but synergistic domain-specific function to that of BCS Health. BCS Health is a domain-specific entity within the BCS, the objectives of which address both the learned society (promoting the academic discipline of IT) and the professional body (furtherance of the IT profession) per se.

Spring 2010