Frequently Asked Questions

Review the frequently asked questions below for more information about the Master of Science in Health Informatics program. Please contact health@usfca.edu if you have any additional questions. 

What is Health Informatics?

Biomedical and Health Informatics (BMHI) is an interdisciplinary field that applies modern data analytics and computer science to healthcare. This involves the effective use of biomedical data, information, and knowledge for scientific inquiry, problem solving, and decision making, motivated by efforts to improve human health.

  • builds on data analytics, computing, communication, and information sciences and technologies and their application in biomedicine.
  • builds on computing, communication, and information sciences and technologies and their application in biomedicine.
  • investigates and supports reasoning, modeling, simulation, experimentation, and translation across the spectrum from molecules to populations, dealing with a variety of biological systems, bridging basic and clinical research and practice, and the healthcare enterprise.
  • recognizing that people are the ultimate users of biomedical information, draws upon the social and behavioral sciences to inform the design and evaluation of technical solutions and the evolution of complex economic, ethical, social, educational, and organizational systems.

What can I do with an MS in Health Informatics?

A graduate of the MSHI program will be able to:

  • Work as a health data analyst to lead the development and advancement of machine learning and information technologies to improve healthcare delivery, access, and cost.
  • Build or join innovative start-ups using information technology to create new health applications.
  • Contribute technology expertise to help global health organizations meet critical world needs.
  • Participate in the development, implementation, evaluation, and management of information technology solutions to improve patient care and the healthcare delivery process.

How long is the program?

The program consists for 36 units. Students in the program are able to take a minimum of 4 units (one class) per semester. The recommended maximum number of units per semester is 12 (three classes). Full-time students, who take 12 units per semester, are able to complete the program in as few as three semesters (Fall-Spring-Summer). Students with work or family responsibilities may spread their program over 2 to 3 years.

How is the program delivered?

The program is delivered on-campus. Students take part in classes that meet once a week. Flexible time options will be provided to accommodate schedules.

What types of students enroll in your program?

We have a very diverse body of students – with backgrounds that include from nursing, pharmacy, medicine, physical therapy, biology, business, computer science and others. All have an interest in healthcare and the desire to learn and use computer technology to improve healthcare.

Is a background in computer science or strong math skills required to succeed in the program?

No, we seek health care professionals or those with a commitment to healthcare, from a variety of backgrounds. Health Informatics requires quantitative skills, thus appropriate programming and statistical content is introduced in the curriculum. Students should be enthusiastic about learning computational skills, but are not expected to have previous background in computer science before entering. Basic statistical background, undergraduate math, and previous programming are helpful, as is clinical or healthcare experience. This program is ideally suited to high-achieving students planning to apply to medical school or graduate programs in other clinical fields, as well as biomedical science. Our graduates have successfully gone on to MD/PhD, PhD, and Postdoctoral positions.

Do I need to know or have programming skills?

No, you do not need to have previous programming experience; we will teach you all that you need to know. You should be excited about learning new programming skills. Health Informatics is a rapidly advancing field that is built on the computer and information science. Our students learn data science skills, including some programming (R and/or Python), which is needed for working with clinical and research data. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with basic R programming concepts through one of many online tutorials. The (free) R tutorials at www.datacamp.com are very good.

By taking this program, will it help me get into medical school?

Yes. Clinical Informatics is a board-certified sub-speciality in the US now. Those who complete a master's degree in health informatics will be well prepared to sit for this exam. Since few physicians have any formal training in this specialty, you will stand out and put yourself in a strong position with graduate training in health informatics. A recent USF MSHI graduate was admitted into a prestigious MD/PhD program with full 7-year scholarship and 1 year credit based on the MS in health informatics degree.

Have any physician's applied for this program before?

Yes, we have several new physicians in our program with each admissions cycle. Our graduate physicians have strong clinical skills upon entering, and gain equally strong data analytics skills in our program. They are generally able to secure exciting, challenging positions with healthcare systems. Some have continued in PhD programs in Health and Biomedical Informatics. Our students have also included those with advanced degrees in various biomedical sciences, many nurses at all levels, pharmacists, physical therapists, dental surgeons, and hospital executives. This training can be valuable for physicians and premedical students, since Clinical Informatics is now a board-certified sub-speciality in the US.

What’s the level of work outside of class?

Students should expect at least 2 hours of preparation and outside research per week for each unit of credit.

Are there class projects?

Yes, the MSHI program requires its students to complete projects. The master’s project will be at a level appropriate for a master’s thesis. The others will be substantial projects that will be worked out together with the faculty advisor.

How often do you accept applications? What are the deadlines? Do you accept applications on a rolling basis?

The MSHI program accepts applications twice a year, as we have cohorts that begin in the fall semester and the spring semester. The priority application deadline is May 15th for the fall and November 15th for the spring. You may apply online by visiting the following site: http://usfca.edu/admission/graduate/apply/

What Pre-requisities or Prior experiences are required for the MS Health Informatics?

In order to excel in this rigorous graduate program, regardless of previous major or experience, applicants should have some of the following abilities:

  • Healthcare or Biomedical Sciences: Previous coursework or work experience in biomedical sciences, healthcare administration, clinical experience, or public health is viewed favorably. Physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other health professionals have excelled in our program and graduated to exciting positions in a variety of organizations, including large medical centers, hospitals, and health tech startups. Pre-medical and pre-health professions students have found that our program to be a valuable stepping-stone to PhD programs, Medical School, or graduate healthcare fields.
  • Quantitative aptitude: Applicants must demonstrate aptitude for quantitative reasoning through excellent performance in undergraduate mathematics or statistics coursework, high scores on standardized tests, or specific work experience. Those with more extensive quantitative backgrounds will be able to pursue more advanced analytical topics if they choose.
  • Computer Programming: Health Informatics cannot exist as a discipline apart from computers. While this is not a computer science program, all accepted students must be prepared to do some computer programming as part of their statistical and informatics methods courses. Students are not required to have any specific background in programming upon entrance. Most of all, they must bring enthusiasm for learning and willingness to work hard alone and collaboratively to gain these skills. The strongest applicants will have taken at least one undergraduate-level computer science or basic programming course, or have some experience with a statistical or scripting language (R, Python, or SAS, for example) gained through self-study or work experience.
  • Passion to use Technology for Good: Our motto, Change the World From Here, is more than just an advertising slogan. Our graduates seek to start new companies, find new ways to use clinical data, and especially to develop technology to reach the most vulnerable and underserved members of society. Our faculty and students are driven to excel in this field to bring about change in healthcare, here in the heart of Silicon Valley, and around the world. If this describes you, we encourage you to join us in this exciting adventure.
  • Preparation: All admitted students who do not have previous programming experience are encouraged to complete an online introductory tutorial to programming in R. More information will be provided to admitted students.

Is the GRE required?

No, applicants to the MSHI program are not required to take the GRE. However, students who feel that strong GRE scores may provide evidence of academic ability that is not reflected in grades are encouraged to submit GRE or MCAT scores. Students entire record of achievements, in and outside of the classroom, will be considered.

What is the turnaround time for an application decision?

We are striving to reduce the decision turnaround time to two to three weeks.

Are students guaranteed internship opportunities? Or would they be required to search by themselves. Are internships paid?

Yes, we will find practicum opportunities for all students and will attempt to match the student’s interests to the opportunity. Some are paid, some are not. This is completely up to the particular internship host.

How is the job outlook for graduates of this program?

Excellent. Our graduates are working in many prestigious medical centers and companies, including Genentech, UCSF Medical Center, Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, and many others. Some students have gone directly to doctoral level programs, including MD/PhD programs in which our graduates were given full credit toward the PhD for their MSHI degree from USF.

How does MS Health Informatics compare to MS Analytics?

You should explore the American Medical Informatics Association web site (www.amia.org), which is rich in information about health and biomedical informatics. The application of “artificial intelligence” to medicine is decades old and has been around much longer than the current analytics craze. With the large-scale adoption of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), the application of computational methods to clinical decision support, evidence based practice, drug trials, and, especially, bioinformatics in genomics and personalized medicine are certain to continue growing rapidly.

How many students do you accept each year?

25 new students during Fall. We also accept a lesser number of students for Spring.

Currently in a Technical position and looking to move into the health industry. Does this present a challenge without a healthcare background and how does that affect chances of getting a job in healthcare?

No, your background makes you a strong candidate for leadership positions in health and biomedical informatics after you receive deep training in the field. We designed our program to give solid background in healthcare, informatics, appropriate computer science and specific specialty fields so that people with backgrounds like yours will be well-suited for positions in health informatics. You will also work with clinicians - nurses, physicians, psychologists, for example - learning from their experience while sharing your experiences with them.

Do you have a certificate program?

Students pursuing an Executive Certificate in Clinical Informatics will likely fall into one of several groups:

  1. Clinicians, such as nurses and physicians, who want a rapid and deep immersion in the field in order to move into clinical informatics or nursing informatics positions in hospitals or medical centers where they already work.
  2. Computer science or engineering students with strong quantitative backgrounds who work with, or would like to work with, health data. The certificate will give them the specific knowledge of health data that they need to move into leadership positions as health data scientists.
  3. Hospital administrators or executives who oversee departments that include clinicians and IT people. Our certificate program will enable them to speak the language of all these groups.
  4. Those who would like as much training in health informatics as possible, but are unsure if they can commit to a full master's program. The certificate allows them to get started and decide later how far they would like to go.
  5. Someone planning to apply to medical school, a graduate program in nursing or another clinical field, or a PhD program in a field related to health and biomedical informatics. The Certificate program enables these students to strengthen their knowledge and resumes.

Does the MS in Health Informatics program have any partners?

Yes, the MSHI program has many partnering organizations. These include many local health organizations, companies, and non-profits. A sampling of organizations where our graduates have worked as data analyst or informaticists include:

  • Kaiser Permanente
  • San Francisco General Hospital
  • UCSF Medical Center
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Genentech
  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Intelligent Medical Objects (IMO)
    and many others.

The MSHI program is also actively involved with several societies. These include:

  • AMIA – The primary professional organization for all professionals in the field. Our faculty are active, enabling them to stay abreast of this rapidly evolving field. We will also seek professional certification for our program when AMIA releases its standards in 2014 for professional master’s programs in health and biomedical informatics.
  • IMIA – The international parent organization for AMIA. We will pursue professional certification for International Health Informatics programs as well.

How much does the program cost?

The program costs $1340 per credit for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Does USF offer financial aid?

Yes, USF offers substantial financial aid. US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for $20,500 in federal loans per academic year. You can apply for Graduate PLUS loans to make up the reminder of the cost.

Is the program accredited?

Yes, USF’s Health Informatics program is fully accredited by WASC, the Western Association of Schools & Colleges.

Contact Info

School of Nursing & Health Professions

Monday–Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

2130 Fulton St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 422-2806