Thursday, February 22, 2018

Next Frontier for Informatics Education: College Undergraduates

In the upcoming spring academic quarter (April-June, 2018), some faculty and I from our Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) will be pursuing a new frontier of informatics teaching, launching an introductory health informatics course for college undergraduates. The course will be offered in the new joint Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)-Portland State University (PSU) School of Public Health (SPH). The new school merged previous academic units in public health from OHSU and health studies programs at PSU.

Our goals for the course are to introduce informatics skills and knowledge to undergraduate health-related majors as well as raise awareness about careers and graduate study in biomedical and health informatics.

As noted in the course syllabus, the learning objectives for the course include:
  • Introduce students to problems and challenges that health informatics addresses
  • Introduce students to the research and practice of health informatics
  • Provide all students with basic skills and knowledge in health informatics to apply in their future health-related careers
  • Lead students in discussion around ethical and diversity issues in health informatics
  • Provide additional direction to those interested in further (i.e., graduate) study in the field
The course will cover the following topics:
  1. Overview of Field and Problems That Motivate It
  2. Health Data, Information, and Knowledge
  3. Electronic Health Records
  4. Personal Health Records and Decision Aids
  5. Information Retrieval (Search)
  6. Bioinformatics
  7. Informatics Applications in Public Health
  8. Data Science, Analytics, and Visualization
  9. Ethical Issues in Health Informatics
  10. Careers in Health Informatics
Readers of this blog will likely hear more about this course in the near future!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Three Parts of My Job: What I Love, Like, and Dislike

I am very thankful in life to have a career that is both enjoyable and rewarding. Years ago, a head hunter recruiting me for a different position asked what my ideal job would be. I paused for only a second or two, and then stated that my current job was my ideal job. It still is. I do not necessarily enjoy every minute of every day, but as I often tell people, I enjoy going to work most days, which is a pretty good indicator of how much one likes their job.

At other times, I tell people that I can break the activities of my job into three categories, which are (a) activities I enjoy and find deeply satisfying, (b) activities that I like that also enable things in the first category, and (c) things I truly dislike.

Most of the parts of my job I truly enjoy involve either my intellectual work in the biomedical and health informatics field or interactions with students and colleagues. Certainly among the major things I love revolve around teaching. I believe I am particularly skilled at taking the complexity of the informatics field; distilling out the big picture, including why it is important; and conveying it through writing, speaking, and other venues. I also enjoy teaching because it requires me to keep up to date with the field. I enjoy constantly learning myself, especially as new areas of the field emerge.

I also enjoy my interactions with people, especially students. I sometimes half-joke that my interactions with learners provides me a similar kind of satisfaction that I no longer get since I gave up practicing medicine a decade and a half ago. One really nice aspect of mentoring learners is that they come in all ages and experiences. I am no longer very young, but some of the people I teach are older than me. I also enjoy mentoring others, including those who have completed their education and are advancing in the field. This especially includes young informatics faculty, both at my university and at others.

Another enjoyable aspect of my job is disseminating knowledge in diverse ways. I have found the Internet as a platform and educational technology as a vehicle to share my knowledge. As noted in a previous post, I also enjoy the opportunity to travel around the world and see informatics play out in other cultures and economies.

The second category of my work consists of activities that I like, or at least do not find onerous. Many of these activities enable my being able to do those in the first category. These include many of my administrative duties as Chair of my department. Fortunately my leadership role in my department is nowhere near a full-time job, which means that I am still able to spend plenty of time on the activities in the first category above.

Finally, there are some aspects of my job that I dislike. Most of these revolve around less-than-pleasant interactions with people with whom I work. One thing I particularly do not enjoy is managing conflicts among those who report to me. I also do not enjoy managing those who do not meet reasonable expectations for their work. And of course there is no fun when budgetary problems arise.

I sometimes think back to a conversation I had a couple years ago with the now-retired President of our university, who was previously the Dean of the School of Medicine. He lamented that one down side to reaching his level was that he did not get to work in his field (ophthalmology) any more. This really struck me, and made me realize that informatics is what makes me work life interesting, and I could never see completely giving up the intellectual side of the field.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Business Travel and Airline Loyalty

One aspect of my work I enjoy is travel, both to domestic and international destinations. I enjoy the opportunity to attend scientific conferences and disseminate my own knowledge by giving talks and teaching. I also enjoy seeing how informatics plays out in the rest of the world, and how its issues good and bad are universal around the globe. Beyond informatics, I just enjoy visiting different parts of the United States and the rest of the world.

Part of my enjoyment stems from my fascination with airplanes. While I can’t say that I enjoy every aspect of air travel, especially delays and cancellations, I do enjoy arriving at my destinations and airplane spotting and tracking along the way. I have fun both tracking down new or unusual types of planes or different liveries that I do not frequently get to see. My photo archive is filled with such photos, and sometimes my biggest photography disappointments are when I am unable to get good pictures of such planes. I have gone out of my way to get booked on new planes. Not only can I remember my first rides on the Boeing 777, the Airbus 380, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, I am currently anticipating my first ride on an Airbus 350.

I also take my airplane travel very seriously, due in part to how much time I spend on airplanes and knowing that good seats and other amenities truly matter. My frequent travel puts me into the category of “business traveler.” This type of traveler does not seek the absolute lowest fare. While the fare difference cannot be exorbitant, factors of convenience and comfort also play into the equation. In addition, every business travel also knows that there is great value to loyalty to one airline, usually whereby one can achieve “status.”

I learned about airline loyalty initially on American Airlines. But American never really had a strong presence at Portland International Airport (PDX), so about two decades ago, I switched my loyalty to United Airlines. United historically had a strong presence at PDX, with flights not only to its major hubs but also up and down the west coast. I also valued its integration in the Star Alliance, not to mention the ability to have status in almost any airport in the world.

But in recent years, United had been reducing its presence in Portland (and actually the entire Pacific Northwest). I found myself sometimes having connections with long layovers or prices that were simply not tenable, even if they did not need to be the absolute cheapest. United essentially now only flies from PDX to its major hubs in Denver, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

So last year, I decided to give Alaska Airlines a try. Their West coast coverage is comprehensive, and they increasingly fly to many cities around the country, if not from Portland then from their primary hub in Seattle. They had a robust partnership with Delta Airlines, which was ideal for PDX, since Delta is the only airline to fly non-stop from PDX to Asia and Europe. Alaska also has a partnership with American, including sharing of lounges, as well as a number of global partners.

But also this past year, Alaska dialed down those partnerships. They ended their relationship with Delta and dialed back with American in order for the federal government to allow their acquisition of Virgin America. One can no longer get elite-qualifying miles on all American flights, but only those that are code share flights, mostly from American hubs to places Alaska does not fly. Alaska passengers no longer get elite benefits on American, which is unfortunate since early boarding and better seats not only allow better productivity on the plane, but also insure I will find overhead bin space for the suitcase I usually carry on and would prefer not to have to check (and potentially not arrive at my destination).

This year, I decided to return to United. It is true that Alaska has growing numbers of destinations. It is unbeatable for western destinations, especially those in California, Arizona, and Hawaii. Alaska flies non-stop to my two most common destinations where United flies, Chicago and Washington, DC, but United actually has more non-stop flights to Chicago and plenty of options for all DC airports.

Alaska has a growing number of non-stop flights to other Eastern destinations, although more typically, one needs to connect to less common cities through an American hub. Some of the Alaska Eastern destinations are only available on red-eye flights. As a business traveler, I have no interest in red-eye flights, which not only make me tired the next day, but also arrive at the wrong time (early instead of late in the day, so one can’t check into a hotel right away). Even though United has fewer flights out of PDX, I can get to almost anywhere on those flights by flying through one of their hubs. I will occasionally have missed connections, but Alaska has delayed and cancelled flights too, and I once got stuck in Seattle due to a freak snowstorm, with the pilots timing out before we could take off for the 37-minute flight to Portland. (My rebooked flights were canceled too, so I ended up renting a car and driving to Portland.)

The Alaska lounge situation is also sub-optimal. Their lounge at PDX is substandard, and while Alaska reciprocates with American Admiral’s Clubs in many cities, some of those lounges are in different terminals from the Alaska gates (e.g., Boston and San Diego), meaning it is almost impossible to have enough time to go through security to visit the lounge and then back out and through security again to get to the Alaska gates.

Alaska has a decent situation with its global partners, but it is just not the same as the Star Alliance, where status on your home airline (United, in my case) gets you status with all of the airlines in the alliance (especially Lufthansa and ANA).

United also has better technology. Its mobile app is more functional, and while United was late to the game with wifi, its satellite-based wifi is superior to the terrestrial GoGo.

In returning to United, I will have to live with some of the disadvantages - requiring connecting flights except to hubs and having to live with occasional disruptions due to missed connections. But United management seems to have improved, and its prices are more competitive out of PDX for now. This makes the calculus for me, as a business traveler, to have United as my preferred airline for travel.