Sunday, June 2, 2024

Graduation Participation and Faculty Address for 2024 OHSU Biomedical Informatics Graduates

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Commencement and School Hooding Ceremonies, also known as Graduation, is always a special event for me. It is a pleasure to celebrate graduates of our Biomedical Informatics Graduate Program completing their studies and moving on to the next steps in their careers. Since our program had its first graduates in 1998, I have only missed the ceremony once, due to a conflict with a National Institutes of Health meeting I was required to attend.

This year our program has 22 graduates, distributed among our PhD (3), Master of Science (15), and Graduate Certificate (4) programs and among our two majors, Health & Clinical Informatics (15) and Bioinformatics & Computational Biology (7). With this year’s graduates, it brings the total number of degrees and certificates awarded by our program since inception to 984.

This year’s event is also special because I have been invited to give the Faculty Address in the OHSU School of Medicine Graduate Studies Hooding & Completion Ceremony. This is the second time I have been asked to give this address, the previous time in 2011.

As I did the last time, I will share my remarks in this post:

Thank you, Dean Fryer for inviting me to give the faculty address at this year’s Graduate Student Hooding Ceremony. It is a real honor. A good number of you in the room know me. I have been at OHSU for 34 years. Along the way, I started a graduate program, some of whose 22 graduates from this year are here today. I also started a department in the School of Medicine.

I work in the field of biomedical informatics, where we focus on the use of information and technology to advance health, healthcare, and biomedical research. Our graduate program matriculated its first students into our master’s program in 1996. From there, we developed a PhD program, a Graduate Certificate program, and bifurcated into two majors, one called Health and Clinical Informatics and the other called Bioinformatics and Computational Biomedicine. The field of clinical informatics is now a recognized medical subspecialty, and I am among the nearly 3000 physicians in the country who are board-certified. With today’s graduates, our graduate program is nearing the awarding of 1000 degrees and certificates. Our alumni have gone on to jobs in academia, industry, healthcare settings, and more, and some have become leaders in the field in their own right.

Our department in the School of Medicine is called the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, or DMICE as many know it, a fitting acronym for a department that does a lot of work with computers. The department has had a sustained record of accomplishment and impact since its inception 21 years ago. This is evidenced by a citation and publishing analysis of the top 2% of the world’s researchers maintained by the Elsevier Data Repository. In this dataset of over 200,000 scientists, there are 295 current and past OHSU scientists, 10 of whom are from DMICE. Our department’s research has been sustained by over $200 million of funding in grants and contracts.

As some of you know, I decided to step down from leadership of the department and graduate program last year. I continue on as a faculty doing what I love most, namely my research and teaching.

The success of our graduate program, our department, and everything else would never have been possible without the faculty, students, and staff who participated in the journey. And this gets to the theme of what I would like to tell today’s graduates, which is that whatever we do that is meaningful in our careers, it takes a group effort. Some of you are graduating to become scientists, while others of you are focused on professional practice. But no matter what your career path, it is important to remember that you have been and will be part of a team. Many of you who become academic faculty will be told of the importance of achieving independence as a researcher. Among those of you who will be practitioners, you will want to practice with professional independence.

Being independent is important, but for all of us, no matter how successful we are as individuals, we would not achieve our accomplishments without the help of other people. Our supervisors, our mentors, our colleagues, our students, our families, and, even if we do not participate directly in clinical care, our patients. Being in the field of informatics, I am both awed by and concerned about the growth of AI, but even the use of AI will not replace our interactions with people and our organizations.

So let me advise those of you who aspire to be scientists upon your graduation. Your research is important and contributes to the greater knowledge base that allows us to keep people healthy and treat their disease. You hope to succeed as individuals, and we want you to as well, but never forget those who provided the foundation for your success. Your parents, teachers, mentors, fellow students and others.

Consideration of the others who help you does not stop there. There are staff in your departments and labs who assist you with writing grant proposals, managing projects and their finances, and helping you deal with space, payroll, etc. And please do not forget patients, which is the whole reason why we work at an academic health science center. Whether your work is in the lab or involves computational approaches, virtually all of the research that goes on in academic medicine ultimately aims to benefit patients. No matter whether we are working on an animal model for a disease or a data set derived from electronic health records, we must honor and respect patients. And if we are privy to their data, we must respect its privacy and confidentiality.

For those of you who will be pursuing professional paths in informatics, management, dietetics, and other disciplines, an analogous approach applies. Your parents, teachers, mentors, fellow students and others are also key to your career success. You too will likely support the delivery of patient care, even if not directly, so you too must honor and respect patients and their data.

In summary, let me wish the best for our graduates and their families. These are challenging times as we emerge from the pandemic and face new threats to funding and other aspects of healthcare and science. Keep positive, draw from and contribute back to those you work and collaborate with, and do good. Thank you.

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