Your data analysts should be professionals
As part of their continued focus on supporting professional registration, Rony Arafin, CEO of the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts, and Andrew Griffiths, CEO of the Federation for Informatics Professionals, come together in a joint article to discuss professionalisation and why it matters
You probably wouldn’t let a plumber fit your new gas fire if they weren’t on the CORGI register. Nor would you trust a surgeon to operate on you without the right certification.
The importance of professionalisation – whether it be training, career development or adherence to codes of conduct and ethical standards – is obvious for some industries. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t just as crucial for others.
The work of data analysts can touch the lives of thousands of patients, if not more. We owe those people professional recognition.
What exactly is professionalisation? And why does it matter?
Professionalisation means developing a professional identity and acquiring the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to work effectively and ethically.
It often involves the establishment of regulatory bodies or professional associations to oversee the quality of practice and promote specific standards and values. For data analysts and analytical workforce, AphA is the Professional Body representing all analysts working in health and care in the UK.
Professionalisation increases public trust and confidence. It elevates the status of a profession and standardises career pathways. Recognising a role as being professional lends credibility to the work in that field and instils confidence in people.
And it’s ultimately for the benefit and safety of the public. Knowing the plumber installing your boiler is CORGI-registered immediately gives you peace of mind that they’re competent and meet the required standards.
In healthcare, registration is just as important.
Nurses must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to be able to work. Even finance staff working in healthcare have their own accreditation body.
Yet the same requirement is not asked for data and analytics roles despite the potential impact on patient safety.
If a clinician makes a mistake, it impacts one patient. If a data analyst makes a mistake, it may harm a lot more.
Analysing data is not just about looking backwards and reflecting on what we could have done better. It now helps us look forward and predict what will happen. In many ways, it’s becoming a kind of treatment itself.
People are selected for trials and therapies based on the data we know about them. Analysts are essentially doing work that carries the same responsibility and impact as clinical decision-making.
Recognising knowledge and defining standards
Without professionalising the role of healthcare analysts, anyone could work in the field with little or no understanding of what it takes to do the job, having a computer in your home does not mean you know how to do data analytics!
People may enter into the field of data with little knowledge and think they can build IT systems and data models and it will all be fine – but it isn’t.
We know from our members and the wider analytics community that there is a lack of value placed on the knowledge required to work in our field. This is partly on us. We haven’t clearly defined and validated what this required knowledge is, and we aren’t always adding to it in a systematic and recognisable way. Fortunately, that is now changing with the emerging National Data and Analytics competency framework which will help advance professional development.
This is why standardisation and professional registration is so important. Establishing standards makes it easier to assess quality, measure performance and set benchmarks for success. Professional registration then becomes the way to demonstrate your skills and competencies against defined standards.
This also leads to the creation of clearer career pathways. Analysts can see what they need to develop in order to progress their careers. Professional registration helps you answer questions such as, “Am I qualified to do my job?”, “Where do I go next”, “How do I add value?”, and “How do I learn new skills?”
Working together for the greater good
Despite the benefits of professionalisation, we still hear analysts ask: “Why should I bother being registered or joining a professional body? There’s no mandate to do so — what’s the point?” Yet the same people are also frustrated and disheartened when they don’t receive recognition for their work or aren’t invested in training and development.
This is where analysts need to give something to gain the prize they actually want — to be recognised as experts in their field. To achieve that recognition, we need active people with a view of what joining a professional body, or becoming professionally registered, can do for us as an industry and for healthcare itself.
Benefits for employers
It’s not just individual analysts who stand to benefit. Professionalisation provides reassurance that a team is good enough to do the job. If something goes wrong, it’s indefensible not to be aware of the quality of the team in charge. In a clinical team, you know that all members are professionally registered and competent. The same can be true for your data and analytics team.
There is a fear amongst some senior managers that professionalisation of data and analytics may be a barrier to coming to work in the NHS. Yet recognising the work of your team and investing in people is far more attractive than we give credit for. It makes the organisation an employer of choice.
Professionalisation can also help stop money being spent on bringing in outside support because of a lack of talent or capacity. Sometimes people think the expertise lies elsewhere and that may be true on occasion.
But if even less than half of that money was invested into retaining and developing in-house data and digital professionals, it would have a huge impact and mean you could trust the insights your analysts produce, improving the quality of strategic decision-making at a lower cost.
The data and analytics workforce may be young. But it already has the main elements of a profession: an agreed body of necessary knowledge, recognised ethical standards, a commitment to continuing professional development and professional body in place to support analysts and organisations.
Membership of AphA provides access to professional registration which is endorsed by FEDIP. Professional registration is an independent benchmark of an analyst’s skills and competence against industry defined standards.
Together, we need to push employers to show commitment to data and analytics profession, your professional development and support your professional registration.
It’s not about creating an exclusive club with a small membership. We want to make sure there are numbers of quality people working in this area who are recognised as professionally registered experts.
It is only through the professionalisation of our industry that it will advance as a whole.