University of Rochester, RIT, Tackle Need for Health IT Professionals

Jan. 12, 2011
Universities combine strengths to offer first joint degree
David Krusch

The University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology have joined forces to bolster two crucial elements of health care reform in the United States—the widespread application of information technology to health care and the adoption of electronic health records.

The two institutions have leveraged their strengths in technology and health care to create a joint master’s degree in medical informatics. It is the first time that the universities have collaborated to offer a joint degree program.

“The new joint degree program between UR and RIT represents the best kind of collaboration. It is a meeting of the minds between two programs with complementary missions in an area which itself represents a blend of information science, computer science and health care,” said Ralph Kuncl, M.D., Ph.D., provost and executive vice president of University of Rochester. “We are confident that the various strengths of our two institutions will help create an enhanced learning experience for students in the program.”

Nicholas Thireos

The emerging field of medical informatics studies the use of information technology in the practice of medicine, and in medical education, research and across other health care disciplines. Health care reform and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 have created an unprecedented need for medical informatics professionals to improve the quality and safety of health care while controlling costs.

The ongoing transition to electronic health records, a computerized information system that contains complete, correct, up-to-date patient medical information that is well organized, legible and available to many clinicians at the same time, underscores the need for this collaboration. These systems are designed to improve the safety and quality of health care delivery. While health care professionals appreciate the benefits of electronic records—including alerts, warnings, reminders and assistance with disease diagnosis and management— there are substantial barriers to adopting them in all hospitals, physician offices and other health care facilities.

“Most health care professionals do not have the computing expertise that is necessary to operate, understand and take advantage of the benefits that this technology offers. And many in the computing discipline lack the requisite knowledge of the medical field,” said Nicholas Thireos, the coordinator of both RIT’s undergraduate and graduate medical informatics program.

As part of the joint degree process, students will gain a robust knowledge of medical practice by shadowing physicians, rotating through medical specialties, attending lectures on advances in medicine and completing class projects that showcase the student’s ability to creatively use technology to improve the practice of medicine. They will also obtain in-depth instruction in information technology and computer science.

“Now is the perfect time for this partnership,” said David Krusch, M.D., a practicing surgeon, director of the Division of Medical Informatics and chief medical information officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “In the history of modern health care there has never been a greater need for health and information technology professionals, and this new program aims at providing excellent training for just those people.”

Students matriculate at either RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences or the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and will take courses at both campuses. Students will graduate from the institution at which they matriculated, but will receive a common diploma bearing the seals of RIT and the University of Rochester.

“This joint degree program represents the type of cross-disciplinary collaboration that will be required to advance the global economy in the 21st century,” says Jeremy Haefner, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at RIT. “RIT is excited to team with the University of Rochester to demonstrate what can be accomplished when people and organizations with diverse and complementary skill-sets work together. We are eager to watch our graduates transform and advance the health care industry.”