UIC Student Reporting from Superstorm Sandy

When I thought my life couldn’t get any more hectic, Hurricane Sandy comes along yesterday and shuts down the entire Eastern seaboard. Thank goodness we in New Hampshire didn’t get effects much more than serious wind and rain. I see a bit of sun peeking out now. Hopefully this will dry up all the rain as the nursery rhyme says. Now I can get back to working my goals which include this post for Healthcare IT Today.

As my fellow student Dusty Brinson did, I’ll spend my first post describing how I got to this point in my life. As a perfect illustration of the variety of experiences in health informatics, Dusty and I come from opposite ends of the spectrum. She comes from the clinical side and I come from the IT side. I spent the last 12 years of my career working in business intelligence, data warehousing and information management. Most recently I’ve worked with Hewlett-Packard for five years. No – I can’t fix your printer or answer questions about your laptop. I don’t “do” hardware (laugh here). I am employed by HP and provide project management expertise to our clients for projects building information management and analytics platforms.

Finding a focus

During the years I’ve spent in information management I felt something missing professionally. Yes, we had plenty of challenges developing data models for various industries, incorporating data from a variety of sources, creating and delivering reporting that people actually used and in general making systems that worked. But as a practicing Christian it just didn’t seem to have as much meaning to improve corporate bottom lines or sell more packaged goods to consumers. Then I had the opportunity to work on a totally different project. This was for a major cancer research organization. During this project we developed a patient-centric data warehouse which incorporated data from the EMR system, clinical studies, genomics, survey’s pathology, and other sources. It was challenging and had benefits for real people with cancer. I decided at that point that I needed to focus on health and life sciences information management.

Since that time about six years ago, I’ve been assigned primarily to projects related to healthcare. I’ve worked on projects with healthcare provider systems, pharmaceuticals, health plans, prescription benefit management organizations and another cancer center. They have all been interesting and I believe I’ve been able to add value in each assignment. But I realized that I needed more knowledge about healthcare informatics than I was able to gain on the job. So I started looking for a Master’s level program that would provide this knowledge. As I’m a traveling consultant and online education is now higher quality and more accepted I decided to look for online programs. After some research I found that University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has an excellent Master’s in Health Informatics. So I signed up to start my program Spring semester of 2010.

The UIC Master’s in Health Informatics has two types of students, those like Dusty who come from a clinical background and those like myself who come from an IT background. Of course, some of our fellow students already have experience in both. But because my background is  IT, I had to take a few additional courses in medical terminology and health information management. From the beginning I’ve found this program to be interesting, challenging and helpful in my career. Today I’m in week one of “Topics in  Health Informatics.” In this class we are discussing many current issues of health informatics like meaningful use, ICD-10, opportunities in HI, measuring value, etc. In previous courses we covered topics like computer networking and communications, security and privacy, electronic medical records, ancillary systems, organizational behavior, and systems analysis. After this class, I’ll have four more to go. I expect  to complete the program in December of 2013.

Where will I go from here?

I’ve already been able to leverage my new knowledge in my job. But I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to consult for the rest of my career. With my degree I have more opportunities to provide value to my clients or to move to an internal role in a New England provider network, academic institution or corporation. What opportunities do readers see in the next few years for a old IT pro with a newly minted MS in health informatics?

About the author


Yvette Desmarais

Yvette is a Masters student with University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Health Informatics Program. She works for Hewlett-Packard as a consulting project manager in their Information Management and Analytics group where she focuses on Health and Life Science analytics and data warehousing.