Just What The President Ordered

06/30/09  Portland, Ore.

OHSU biomedical informatics hires interns, trainees, and college faculty with federal stimulus funds

Oregon Health & Science University has received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and will do exactly what President Obama ordered: hire trainees and summer interns for its biomedical informatics training program. The new hires include undergraduate and graduate students as well as community college faculty.

The federal economic stimulus funding was received by the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) in OHSU's School of Medicine. "This will do exactly what the President intended: provide jobs and help build expertise in health information technology," said William Hersh, M.D., professor and chairman of DMICE. "This will be good for patients, who will see improvements in quality of care through the use of information technology. It will also be good for Oregon's economy, as our state is positioned to be an industry leader in health IT due to the presence of established and emerging companies and the strength of the biomedical informatics program at OHSU. We're very excited about this opportunity."

Summer interns have already started arriving on campus and will work on a variety of projects under the mentorship of OHSU biomedical informatics faculty. A total of thirteen students are participating in the internship program, and come from a variety of colleges and universities, including the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Portland State University, Scripps College, and Northwestern University.

Brian Bakke is a sophomore at Portland State (PSU) studying computer science. "I'm interested in ways that technology can make health care more accessible for patients and simpler to understand." Bakke is in the "3+2" joint biomedical informatics program between PSU and OHSU that allows students to receive both a B.A. in Computer Science and an M.S. in Biomedical Informatics during a coordinated, five-year course of study. "I think informatics is poised to make significant contributions to improving the American health care system in the coming years and I hope to be a part of that."

Peter Ryabinin is a Portland native currently studying mathematics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Like many of his fellow summer interns at DMICE, he is interested in getting some work experience and finding out more about the field of biomedical informatics. "I enjoy applying mathematical ideas to the real world," he said. "I think informatics is a way to do that and I want to see if it's the right fit for me."

All who participate in the program will take away valuable knowledge and skills they can pursue further study in the field (college interns), curriculum development in community colleges (faculty), and employment in the field (graduate student fellowships).

John Blackwood is a faculty member at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. He teaches in the Computer Information Systems degree program, a two-year sequence of classes designed to prepare students for employment as an entry-level network administrator, computer support person, Web designer, or computer programmer. "Informatics, at the associate degree level, is a relatively new employment opportunity and I want to educate myself so that I can help prepare my students to take advantage of more career options." Blackwood and fellow DMICE summer hire Michael Talbert of Portland Community College are developing the curriculum for an associates degree in health informatics that they hope will be adopted by the state and available at all community colleges in Oregon. "The jobs are there. We just need to ensure that our students have the right mix of skills to be attractive to employers."

The final group of trainees will begin arriving in the late summer and early fall. These will be graduate students pursuing Ph.D. degrees as well as postdoctoral fellows (with an M.D. or Ph.D.) who will be seeking advanced education in the field that will allow them to develop careers in this growing field. They will pursue a course of study that will culminate in a research project under the mentorship of an OHSU faculty member.

The stimulus funding comes to OHSU from the National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, the government agency devoted to biomedical research and training. OHSU will receive $184,810 for the summer internship program and $1.15 million for the fellowships. Further health information technology will be forthcoming in the future from other initiatives in the stimulus package as well as legislation sponsored by Oregon Congressman David Wu.

About OHSU                          

Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and Oregon's only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government). OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.