Doctors on the average TV medical drama spend a lot of time with technology: squinting at screens and waiting for results to come back, either for comic relief, drama, or to prove cynical points about humanity. But you never see anyone actually programming the technology. That may not make for great television, but would certainly reflect the real state of modern medicine. And you can see that in the expanding role of computer science skills in medical jobs.

Research conducted by Burning Glass Technologies for Oracle Academy shows the demand for coding skills is expanding far beyond traditional technology roles in the workforce. One of the most striking examples is the extent to which coding is required, or at least preferred, in roles ranging from medical research to managing hospital computer systems and even for doctors, nurses and other practitioners.

Medical Research: The scientists leading cutting edge research to find cures for cancer and other diseases often spend as much time at a computer as they do at a lab bench. Genetics researchers write complex computer programs and analyze huge amounts of data to identify the specific genes that cause a diseases or to determine the specific treatment program that will work best for each individual. In fact, computing is so important to medical research today that drug development companies hire nearly as many computer programmers and data analysts as they do scientists.

Keeping Health Systems Working: Hospitals and doctors’ offices use complex computer systems to track appointments, store patient’s health records, and analyze whether treatments are successful. Hospitals hire specialized programmers and database administrators to build and support these systems. Hospitals provide an important first step on the IT career ladder for entry level workers: they hire more help desk and support specialists than the tech industry and there are hospitals in every community in the nation, whereas technology companies tend to cluster in large urban centers.

Algorithmic Problem Solving: Computer science skills are valuable even for roles where programming is not specifically required. Medical practitioners such as doctors and nurses use an approach called differential diagnostic procedures to identify a disease from multiple possibilities based on a patient’s symptoms and lab results. This structured approach to problem solving holds much in common with algorithm development used in computer applications.

Perhaps physicians will routinely start learning to write computer code, perhaps not. But there’s no question that medicine is a field where code matters—and will matter even more in the future.

Dan Restuccia is Chief Analytics Officer of Burning Glass Technologies.
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