Certificate versus Masters degree

I am wanting to further my education in health informatics but one of my biggest questions is what is the difference, as far as curriculum, between a certificate program and a masters degree program. I am leaning towards a MBA at Georgia State University mainly because it is a totaly classroom setting. Yet, I've noticed numerous programs that offer a certificate. These programs are of course far less expensive than GSU but they are mainly online programs. Thoughts?

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  • Without knowing your specific background, as somebody who hires entry level candidates in informatics, my advice to you would be, stay away from a certificate because most hiring managers/directors aren't taking these certificates seriously.

    The only time a certificate program is recommended is when the school  that offers it, also offers you the chance to find employers who give these candidates the chance to interview for a job. Otherwise, I wouldn't waste my money on a certificate.

    However, if by any chance you have some informatics experience or maybe your IT background is very strong, then a certificate might boost your resume a bit.

    I have had several readers of my blog write me and tell me that they got a certificate and they can't even land interviews with those and they feel cheated as they were told there were tons of informatics jobs out there; they thought that they would get a certificate, and then come out and get a job.  

    Problem is that most employers want candidates with some experience in informatics, and just having a certificate in informatics won't get you that far. And that's why i say, only get a certificate if you're already experience in the field, and you're looking to boost your resume, or if the school is offering job placement.  Otherwise, stay away.  

    Maybe in a couple of years the certificates would be worth the money.

  • In spite of the fact that I teach a certificate course in Health Informatics, I agree with Chris. Most people are better served with a Master's degree. In addition, in the US many HIT vendors also want candidates to have some clinical experience which is difficult if they come from a purely IT background. This is why nurses have an advantage when seeking a career change to an informatics field. Nurses might be ok with just a certificate because many EHR vendors feel they can teach them the necessary IT because they already understand medical workflow, process re-engineering,etc.

    Our certificate course provides a comprehensive introduction into Health Informatics which is useful for a variety of students but does not guarantee them a job. There will be a lot of unhappy students if they believe that a certificate by itself will get them a job.

    Bob H

    • I must thank you both for your comments. They have helped me tremendously with my decision making process. My background is in health information management so I think a masters degree in Health Informatics is the route I should take to add upon the education and experience I have. Many thanks again. 

      • I agree with Chris and Bob. In New Zealand we have Post Graduate Diplomas that are between Certificate and Masters levels. They are very good for doctors and nurses who want to upskill and demonstrate their competency in HI. I would say that they would be more likely to lead local HI projects but continue in their current clinical roles for the majority of the time.

        For people wanting to move out of clinical roles into HI specific roles, a Masters is probably a better option (although in NZ, the PGDip can lead to a masters).

        For IT professionals, it is probably more valuable to get specific certifications in such things as HL7 or the various non-health certifications.

        The most important thing for leading implementations or climbing the corporate ladder is experience rather than qualifications. At some point, gaining an MBA might help with management skills and recognition as you get higher up.

  • Hello Renice. A certificate programme is the equivalent (usually) of the foundation courses of a masters programme. In other words, you could do four courses of an eight course postgraduate diploma and gain a certificate - it's a way of staging your studies and getting qualifications at the same time. Usually people do certificate programmes to fit into their busy lives and that's why certificates are online programmes. Some universities allow you to complete the certificate and then go on to complete a diploma and then do some research to complete the masters.

    If you want to know more about the University of Auckland's health informatics programmes take a look at http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/faculty/postgrad/subjects/healthinfo...

  • Hi Renice, I am currently enrolled at GSU in their Master's program - Leadership & Innovations - specializing in informatics. I absolutely love the program. We meet once a month onsite and every Monday online in a virtual classroom! Program is under the School of Nursing. Check it out - might be something that would work for you.
  • In my opinion, there is a different between certification and short course training program, as the certification program basically is a test whether a participant already mastering a specific skill such as HL7 or IT Audit (CISA). When a participant passes the examination then he/she will be given a certificate which has time limit (ex 4 year of period). The certification programs as I mentioned early are acknowledge by professional organization, national level and probably globally (depend on how well known the certification is) and obviously valuable when it put on your CV. On the other hand, a short course program could be has smaller scope as is addressed to individual who would like to obtain additional knowledge. It is not necessary nationally or globally acknowledge. My experience developing a short course program on health informatics in Indonesia that this training program is suitable for people who has health background who want to know more on informatics domain, as their current job requires these skills. Or people with informatics background that requires health-related knowledge. We see that the training program is appropriate for those who already works in health-related institution.

  • Hi Renice,

    I got my Nursing Bachelor degree long time ago and experienced the clinical and the managerial carrier. I also worked in Human Resources in a company for Petrolium Maintenance Services, then I returned to work in Nursing Administration. I managed to get a master degree on Quality Management. When I decided to hit the world of health informatics, I found that I have to apply for a master degree. I could not apply for the Phd Health Informatics, as I do not have experience in this field and I was adviced by collegues in the IT Department not to take any certified courses. It is well known that the holder of diploma or courses certificates will have the opportunities to find a job but their chances is fal less than the holder of post-graduate certificats i.e. Master or Phd ... based on this I think I will give myself the right to advice you to go ahead for the degree, although I had many diplomas and courses in different specialties, but they did not support my CV.

  • Renice, it seems like you are on right track. Certifications cannot match up to the value of a Masters degree. And with the option of being able to pursue an online degree, there is no reason for you to deny yourself and your career that boost; you can work, take care of your family, and maintain a social life all while you do it. The best online degree programs are accredited, well rated, and simulate the classroom experience realistically, and these are the exact criteria you are focused on. Also, choosing a Healthcare degree is wise; healthcare will generate approximately 3.2 million new jobs (http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs035.htm) by 2018.

  • One of the challenges of the informatics field at the current time is that there is no standards or consistency for what is in any educational program. So comparing between certificate vs. masters or even between different certificate or masters programs at different institutions can be challenging.

    At Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU, http://www.ohsu.edu/informatics-education), we offer both a certificate and a masters. The certificate is a subset of the masters, and anything you do in the certificate can be carried into the masters. Both programs are online. So you do not really choose between one or the other, which I know is not the same of all places.

    In general, I tend to advise more training for those who are less established in their career. A long-standing health care or IT professional probably only needs a certificate (although many do pursue a masters), while those who are younger and less experienced should probably pursue a masters.

    But at least in our program, the choice between two is not either-or.

    Bill Hersh




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