MMI 498 - Capstone / Thesis

Course Description:

The capstone project course is the culmination of the Masters of Science in  Medical Informatics (MMI) program and provides students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the core competencies in the medical informatics field. Students, working in small groups, will also complete a comprehensive project provided by the instructor at the beginning of the course.
Professor: Melinda Jenkins
Term: Summer 2012
Grade: A
Text: No textbooks, just research, literature review and writing.

Learning Objectives:

  • Demonstrate mastery of previous MMI course goals.

What I Learned:

Although this was the last class in the MMI program at Northwestern University, it marks the beginning of my journey in applying the knowledge I gained in my professional career. I began my journey during the Winter 2009 Term and continued taking classes consecutively every term until Summer 2012. Although demanding, I was able to do this while maintaining a full-time career as a Software Engineer at Blue Cross of Idaho, my own consulting business, community service for my church, and still be an effective leader of my family. I am grateful for having a loving wife and three beautiful daughters for their supportive encouragement and understanding as I pursued this adventure. I am also grateful to extended family, friends, and colleagues at work and in the program for their support as well. Most of all, I am grateful to God for His tender mercies and blessings to afford this opportunity and privilege in my life.

For me, the program's value was much more than what its curriculum offered. The Faculty was outstanding and it consisted of recognized leaders in their respective domains. The admission criteria and filters ensured for a cohort of students' that were of the highest caliber. I stood to learn a lot from those that I would be interacting with in my journey into Medical Informatics.

One of the most attractive aspects of the program at Northwestern was that I could earn the same education and experience that a student in the on campus program would experience.This allowed me to continue my career without having to relocate my family. Northwestern University was one of the first and most reputable programs to offer an advanced degree in Medical Informatics. I was also encouraged as I began my introductory coursework to lay the foundation in the clinical side.I met every week for lecture, and through remote technologies, students all across the United States were able to participate in equal fashion to that of an on campus program.It was an enjoyable experience.I interacted and exchanged ideas synchronously with other students and my professors, and it was through these interactions that I gained the most value from the program.Indeed, I continue to maintain contact to network and find opportunities within the specialized MMI field. At the point at which I had only three classes left in the program, it changed to an asynchronous format.In my opinion, the value proposition diminished significantly. I chose to finish the program as I was so close to completing the degree requirements. Nonetheless, I remain proud of my accomplishments, and I plan to advocate a better balance between interaction and correspondence so that future Alumni can have the same experience as I and my other classmates in my cohort had.

Reflecting back on the classes, the group of Professors I was taught by had a profound influence in helping me gain mastery over the material and even more so in applying it through the individual and group assignments. Margaret Schulte and David Liebovitz, MD were essential in helping me lay the fundamental clinical foundation needed. Vikram Sheshadri, PhD and John Gatta, PhD helped me understand, enjoy, and apply biostatistics in a way that can easily be used to influence better informed decisions in Healthcare. Karin Lindgren, JD and Patricia Becker, MBA had an infectious passion for Medical Informatics that left a lasting impact with me. They were also my professors' for a number of classes ranging from the legal and ethical aspects of HealthCare to operational impacts (including technological acquisitions and management). Lastly, Russell Roberson, PhD was new to the faculty during the spring 2012.However, he had a lasting impact at a critical time in my professional career in helping me develop as a leader through his course on leadership theory.

I will not forget my cohort and the new friendships that developed as we learned together through group projects. Relationships with other students in the program are a critical component of the MMI program at Northwestern University. Because the vast majority of them are working professionals, it is absolutely essential to have dedicated individuals that are committed and are equally yoked in contributing toward the deliverables for a project. I was extremely fortunate to have associated and rubbed shoulders with such individuals during my course work. Many of the individuals I worked with were managers, directors, or executives in their own careers. I was humbled by their experience and encouraged at the same time that I might grow in learning from them. I plan to stay in close contact and leverage the relationships established through the program to find opportunities within the field. Some of the students I most enjoyed working with include: Eric Abbott, John Goss, Mike Sleep, Chad Hodge, Kempton Presley, Wade Astin, Jacob Frimpong, Nancy Casazza, Valarie Moore, MD, and Charles Moore. All set the bar a little higher for me and I am appreciative for all that they offered and help me learn in return.

Specific to this class, I was able exercise my research abilities again and get re-acquainted with research tools available on the Internet and through the health sciences library. Focused research requires mastery of PubMed, Medline, MeSH terms, Gartner, etc.. Doing literature review requires a disciplined approach and thoughtful analysis up front that leads to better results with the end deliverable. I learned how to use EndNote for the first time in doing my research.For the final paper, I worked with John Goss, Aileen Liberto, and Valarie Moore, and created a proposal from a consultants viewpoint on a FDA approved medical device responsible for automated dispensing of drug regiments in the home.

In the next five to ten years, I plan to take advantage of the superb education I have received. Education is the key which will open the doors to opportunities. I developed a keen interest for clinical decision support systems (CDSS) late in the program, and got involved with an open source project known as OpenCDS. Its founder is Dr. Kensaku Kawamoto, MD, PhD, and he is the current Director of Knowledge Management and Mobilization at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. I plan to get more involved as my schedule permits and I plan to contribute in any way I can to his project. A suggested project by Dr. Kawamoto is to aid in integrating OpenCDS with an open EMR solution that is funded by CMS in Zambia. The project is known as SmartCare, and while time did not allow it for my thesis project, I will be pursuing it as a volunteer opportunity to give me experience as an intern. I hope through my involvement that I might get more involved in CDSS and be able to open doors that will let me do more of this work directly in my career. Long term, if opportunities do not exist for Medical Informatics at my current employer or in the community, I will target opportunities with Intermountain Healthcare (IHC), Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) or University of Utah which are all based in Salt Lake City, Utah. If career opportunities require it, I will pursue a PhD in Medical Informatics but only after gaining a couple more years working within the healthcare industry. My desire is to find opportunities in the Northwest United States so that I can remain close to my extended family. My primary interests have stayed technical, so want to leverage my talents on the technical side in order to help bridge the gaps I perceive in delivering care that is safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable, and patient centered. All of these aims were outlined in the published article, Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century by the Institute of Medicine in 2001.

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