Bringing Sexy Back (A Post from Natalie)

Instead of just hearing from me, we’re starting to add more posts from more members of the lab, and from more perspectives.  The first is from Natalie Benda, who is now a happy and proud GROUPER alumna.  Here’s an insight from her:

 

My journey to Purdue begins in Dubuque, IA, “the home of America’s river”. (Yes, that is what the sign says when you cross into my county). When I was younger, I always thought I would end up going into medicine. I come from a family where you were the odd one out if you did not work in the healthcare field. Knowledge of medicine was a pre-requisite for the majority of the conversations that when on at the “grown-ups” table when I was growing up. My parents even met in a hospital where they have worked for a combined total of about sixty years. So, naturally I chose to study engineering in college. That makes sense, right? No? Well, it will eventually.

 

In high school, when discussing my prospects for secondary education, many times I heard something along the lines of, “You’re good at math and science, you should be an engineer.” It must have stuck at some point, because I started to do my about it. I found the descriptions and coursework for computer, electrical, civil, mechanical and even biomedical engineering, were less than intriguing. I did not want to be in a lab or at a computer all day tinkering away with components.  In the words of my favorite mermaid, I wanted to be where the people were! So, when I came across material on industrial engineering, which emphasized the human aspect of engineering, it was a no-brainer.

 

With a newly found excitement for my presumed, I began the search for a school. My criteria – get out of Iowa but remain within driving distance, and find a large university with a strong reputation for industrial engineering. The three main schools I looked at were Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Urbana and Purdue. My junior year of high school, my mother and I trekked through a blizzard to visit Purdue on what was probably one of the coldest days of the year. I wish I could give a non-cliché account of all of the wonderful qualities that drew me to Purdue during this first visit, but I can’t. It just felt like the right fit, and I never looked back.

 

Fast-forward to my sophomore industrial engineering seminar. Although I was excited about getting out of freshman engineering classes and into my chosen discipline, I didn’t feel I had found that extra-curricular activity niche that many of my classmates had. Until one day, our seminar speaker gave a presentation regarding opportunities for industrial engineers in healthcare. Do you remember my rant about being destined to work in healthcare earlier? Is it starting to make a little more sense?

 

So, after their speech, I approached the speaker to learn more about how I could get involved in healthcare engineering at Purdue. It turned out she was a member of GROUPER. As many of you know, GROUPER works in many areas besides healthcare, however as Dr. C. says it is the new, sexy field for IE’s. This healthcare component was what initially drew me to the lab. What kept me there was breaking down the barriers of traditional engineering and finding ways to connect people and systems through communication. If you can’t tell by my quoting Disney movies and titling my entry after a Justin Timberlake song, I do not like to be subject to societal norms. And GROUPER is far from the norm.

 

In my two plus years as a GROUPER, I performed many tasks from managing the lab’s schedule to statistical analysis supporting Ph. D. research, and managed to stumble across some research of my own in the process. After organizing the lab’s document library, I found I had a special interest in chronic disease adherence. So, with the help of Dr. C. and the Medication Safety Network of Indiana, I designed a study that analyzed information flow between patients and pharmacists in pharmacy consultations for congestive heart failure medications. I could give you a dry, statistical run-down of the results, but for the sake of the blog I’ll get to the point: the results of the study evidenced the critical part that the pharmacist plays in patient medication safety by capturing potential adverse events the pharmacist was able to detect and prevent. The project is on hold for the moment, but now that we know these potential adverse events are there, couldn’t we find where they stem from? Could we in turn find the root cause of more adverse events that the pharmacist may not be able to prevent and discover ways to build a safer medication system?

 

Since my graduation from Purdue in December, I have begun a new job in Washington, D.C. as a research assistant for the National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare. In my first few weeks at NCHFH, I have worked on a number of projects that include validating the use of a serious game as an assessment tool (yes, I play video games at work), methods of reducing blood stream infections in dialysis patients and representing communication patterns through #socialnetwork mapping (okay, not that kind of social network, but you get my point).

 

The project that will be taking up the majority of my time is a classic information alignment problem. We will be working to help software vendors design electronic health record systems that facilitate providers’ ability to achieve “meaningful use” systems. The Office of the National Coordinator is strongly pushing the principles of user centered- and safety enhanced-design. To facilitate this, members of academia have developed a number of tools for the vendors to promote usability. As one could imagine, healthcare professionals, academic researchers and commercial software designers do not exactly speak the same language. Our goal is to help get to a place where these vastly different groups can understand one another and work towards the common goal of designing systems to deliver safer, more effective patient care. Thus far it is turning out to be a fascinating challenge, and my work with GROUPER has left me well prepared.

 

 

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