Data analytics and cybersecurity are hot topics in the health care field right now.

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There is no question that jobs in health care are on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the sector will have grown 18 percent from 2016 through 2026, adding about 2.4 million new jobs — more than any other occupational group tracked by the federal agency. However, many of those jobs are support oriented, requiring little more than a high school diploma, an associate degree or a certification, and paying a median of $64,770 in 2017.

What if you want a six-figure salary without having to pursue the doctorate-level education required to become a surgeon, optometrist, pharmacist or dentist? Health care IT may be just what the doctor ordered.

Profile of a health IT leader

Job titles within the health information technology field include: systems analyst, data analyst, data quality analyst, programmer, software engineer and similar positions. Also included are the top jobs in the field: chief information officer, chief technology officer and chief information security officer. Employers include vendors and consulting firms (which tend to pay better) and hospitals and medical groups (which can offer better work-life balance).

Information technology professionals in the health segment have a number of responsibilities, but most revolve around working with the electronic health care record system — whether implementing, maintaining or securing it, explains Lara Khansa, an associate professor of Business Information Technology at Virginia Tech. Khansa teaches courses that make up a health IT module within the broader online Master of Information Technology program.

Succeeding in the health IT field requires three skill sets, Khansa says: having a strong understanding of IT; of programming or interface languages; and of data in general, including privacy and security. But it is data analytics and cybersecurity that are the hot topics right now, she says.

“The data is there in the database, but the ability to give the doctor the recommendations on the fly, in real time, based on this data — this is the most important thing because it saves patients’ lives,” she explains. That requires IT experts to learn how to write algorithms that process the data fast and make decisions, but at the same time, “We have to keep the data secure and private,” she says.

A fast track to professional confidence

Word-of-mouth recommendations have driven students to Khansa’s health IT concentration. Enrollment has risen steeply since she first started teaching the health IT course, a result of the popularity of the MIT program itself as well as that “the students value the attention I give them, they value the expertise, and, I think, they end up with projects that show they did something in the class,” she says.

Yet, Khansa knows that not all the students will end up working in health IT, and that’s OK, she says. “They learn the concepts, the technology — which is very transferable. It doesn’t have to be the health care field. [What’s important] is the way of thinking — it’s the research, the inquisitive mind, the confidence they gain through the course that they can apply in any field.”

Virginia Tech’s 100% online Master of Information Technology program is jointly offered by the Pamplin College of Business and the College of Engineering. It has been ranked the No. 3 Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Program by U.S. News & World Report six consecutive years.