An Update on the UVic Graduate Certificate in Health Terminology Standards

An Update on the UVic Graduate Certificate in Health Terminology Standards

By: Francis Lau PhD, FCAHS, CTSS, professor, School of Health Information Science, University of Victoria


In the summer of 2016, the Canadian College of Health Information Management invited educational institutions across Canada to increase health terminology capacity and expertise. In response, the University of Victoria introduced in fall 2018 the first-ever Graduate Certificate in Health Terminology Standards, aimed at working professionals in the health sector. This is a one-year, part-time online learning program created in partnership with Ontario Health Digital Excellence in Health, Gevity Consulting and RKL Health Informatics. Students who complete this program are eligible to apply for the College’s Certified Terminology Standards Specialist certification to earn a CTSS professional designation. The program has four online courses with weekly real-time evening classes that run from September to August the following year. There is also a 2.5-day virtual workshop (previously in-person) as part of the third course in May, followed by a capstone project as the final course. A brief description of each course is given below.

HINF 535 Health Information Standards – This course is on health information standards deployed and used in Canada and elsewhere. The standards include controlled terminology and data exchange standards such as SNOMED CT, ICD/CCI, LOINC/pCLOCD, nursing terminologies, HL7 and IHE. The topics cover the nature of standards, their evolution and lifecycles from initial development, distribution to maintenance.

HINF 536 Controlled Terminology Standards – This course is on adoption and management of controlled terminologies in health organizations. Adoption covers the planning, design, implementation, use, support and evaluation of terminologies in health IT applications. Management covers the development, publishing, distribution and maintenance of terminology content, services and tools as organizational assets.

HINF 537 Health Information Exchange Standards – This course is on the use of controlled terminologies for health information exchange (HIE) in health organizations. It covers the planning, development, implementation, use, maintenance and evaluation of HIE standards, resources and tools.

HINF 597 Field Project in Health Informatics – In this course, each student is required to complete a practical field project that involves the use of controlled terminologies and/or data exchange standards.

Current status

While the Graduate Certificate was initially aimed at health information professionals who wish to specialize in health terminologies, thus far most of our enrollments have come from different disciplines including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, IT/IM analysts and managers. All have expressed the need and desire to learn more about health terminology standards so they can be better equipped to work in the increasingly complex EHR and data-driven health care environments. The program is now in its third year of offering, with a cohort of 11 students who are halfway through their second course on controlled terminologies. Feedback from previous cohorts has revealed they appreciated the quality and diversity of the co-instructors, detailed hands-on assignments, and up-to-date learning resources. At the same time, most have grappled with the huge learning curve in having to assimilate a large volume of course materials in such a compressed time period.

Career prospects

While the demand for health terminology knowledge and expertise is undeniably there and growing, the job market for terminology specialists has been somewhat slow to materialize. With Canada being a less populated country compared to the United States and England, only a handful of large Canadian organizations have dedicated health terminology teams and specialists in place. Most organizations tend to delegate health terminologies as an add-on responsibility for existing IT/IM analysts. We see this trend will likely continue in the foreseeable future. CCHIM has been actively promoting the importance of health terminology standards and this certification to employers to raise awareness, and encouraging them to include the CTSS designation as a preference when hiring IT/IM professionals. The School has also been expanding its partnerships with such organizations as the Canadian Institute for Health Information and SNOMED International, while reaching out to health ministries, health organizations and private sector across the country to promote the program and its graduates.

Want to become a CTSS? The UVic Graduate Certificate in Health Terminology Standards is now accepting applications for its fall 2021 cohort. Applicants need to have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. Special considerations may be given to those without the degree but have direct/relevant work experience. The application deadline is Jun 1, 2021 for Sep 1, 2021 entry term. For more info contact Dr. Francis Lau at [email protected] or see

Related Articles