You say tomato …

About three months ago, I threw out for discussion whether an informatics professional should be called an “informaticist” or an “informatician.” Three people posted short comments directly on the blog, but I received several other opinions via e-mail.

While I personally prefer informaticist, my unscientific poll showed that the issue is far from settled.

One of those who commented on the blog—a techie whom I actually know—suggested “the plain and simple ‘guru of everything.'”

An e-mail from an EMR vendor joked that the debate was akin to “physicist” vs. “physician.” (Most physicians I know would want to make sure everyone is perfectly clear on that distinction.) This individual went with informatician “because mostly these folks apply the principles of IT rather than being purely in the computer science of information.”

Another vendor executive — a physician — went with informaticist, only because it’s easier to say.

One of the more thoughtful comments said that informatician has lost popularity as the field of informatics has evolved:

Some other thoughts:

  • I think the -ian suffix implies a practitioner of informatics, whereas the -ist ending seems to imply a more academic pursuit. This is in keeping with the progression of informatics — it is increasingly moving out of academia and moving into the field.
  • I much prefer “informaticist”, because it sounds like informatics, does not appear too contrived or stuffy, and has a much greater chance of getting into common usage (I don’t even know where the accent falls in “informatician”). If the real world is going to start hiring informaticists (e.g., as CMIOs), they’d better have a convenient way to say it!
  • Regarding “informatician” vs. “informaticist,” I tend to prefer informatician. That said, whatever we call ourselves, I think that we have much bigger identity problems. In fact, there are no well-defined core competencies that an informatician/icist must possess, especially when our esteemed leaders profess the nice-sounding but ultimately impractical (at least for the next 100 years) dogma that bio-informatics and clinical informatics are one discipline. Everybody knows what an anesthesiologist/anesthetist does, but an informatician might be a change management specialist, an ontology wonk, an NLP geek, or a CPOE “expert.” Or a protein folding or genetic sequence analysis guy. Perhaps this is one reason why I hear so many of my friends in formal informatics training programs complain that there are no jobs out there for informaticians, despite the supposed “shortage.”

My favorite comment suggested that informatician might be more popular on the East Coast, while informaticist holds sway with the West Coast and Midwest, though the terms might as well be synonymous. “However, I prefer ‘informatician,'” this individual added. “Sounds like what we do — info-morticians: dealing with dead, legacy data.”