Why I Teach: Judith Logan, MD, MS

Dr. LoganLast November, five members of the School of Medicine faculty were recognized by their peers for excellence in teaching. This Q&A series profiles recipients of the 2011 "Faculty Excellence in Education Award" and asks them the question, "Why do you teach?"

This month's Q&A features Judith Logan, MD, MS, Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE). Dr. Logan teaches courses in databases, standards and interoperability, and clinical research informatics. Her research interests center around the secondary use of clinical data for research, with attention on user interfaces, underlying controlled vocabularies and data structures. She is the Director of Development and Technology for the Clinical Outcomes Research Initiative (CORI), a GI Endoscopy research group.


How did you first become attracted to an academic career?

I fell somewhat accidentally into an academic career, which is my second career. I was active in clinical practice as an ED [Emergency Department] physician and became interested in ways that electronic health records could improve my patient care, so pursued that interest as a member of the first class in the DMICE Biomedical Informatics Masters program. When I finished my Masters degree, I enjoyed the field so much that I accepted an invitation to stay here at OHSU as faculty in DMICE. Before that, I had never thought that I would ever teach.

Why do you teach? Can you provide an anecdote that illustrates this?

I teach because there is a tremendous need for medical informaticians as best evidenced by the success of our programs and graduates. Most of the students that I teach are in certificate or Masters programs and are looking either to join the health care workforce or are clinicians who want to further their careers as medical informaticians. So workforce needs are very important.  It is a great joy to see our students gain both the basic knowledge and specific skills that they need to do this. 

As an example, I teach a database class which is required of all of our Masters students. We have some very talented and successful mid-career students, including physicians, who struggle with computer science. They just aren't "geeks." But medical informatics sits at the junction of health care and technology, so it is important that medical informaticians speak both languages. It is rewarding when you work hard with one of these students and finally see the proverbial light bulb coming on.

Do you learn from your students?

Always. We have students from all over the world with a tremendous range of experiences. So the learning is really two-way. Even in classes that are more technical, and with less interaction, the students teach me what I need to teach them. They may see changes in the field before I am aware of them. 

Are great teachers born, or are they made?

If I can teach, anyone can learn to. 


What are the great challenges to teaching in the 21st century?

A challenge that I see is the need for students to integrate their education into their existing lives, which means not moving or leaving their employment. Second careers or changes in career focus will become even more common as our average retirement age increases. Not all fields of study are amenable to part-time or distance learning, but many are and I expect that the demand for this type of education will only increase.

That presents some problems for the teachers, because it means that you have to use just the right amount of technology. We have demonstrated, for example, that students are more satisfied with more interaction − student-student and student-instructor − in their courses. Remember when distance courses meant you were sent a package of material in the mail and returned your assignments the same way? That just doesn't work any more. But putting interaction into a distance course requires careful planning and can take significant teaching time.

In addition, we are currently limited to teaching in just one language, English, so our students from around the world must speak English well. Recently, I taught an international course which included students in Argentina. While all of them spoke English to some degree, using only English was not ideal. How do we best have cross-cultural, cross-language education without just having separate courses? I don't know the answer to that. 

Do challenges open up new opportunities?

Definitely. The expansion of our Biomedical Informatics program into online learning has allowed us to explore technologies and teaching styles that meet the needs of our dispersed student body as well as our on-campus students. Some students prefer face-to-face classes, but even some of our on-campus students prefer to take classes online. I think that speaks highly of the quality of our distance program. In addition, we are able to offer programs that would probably not attract enough on-campus students to make them possible, such as our Health Information Management program. I see us expanding to meet other specialized needs. I am especially interested in the idea of pharmacy informatics, of creating a program that would meet the needs of non-academic pharmacists interested in the application of medical informatics in their field. 

What do you think education will look like at OHSU in the future?

I suspect that it will look more and more like the DMICE model. As educational programs grow to accommodate students making mid-career changes or starting second careers, traditional in-class education will not be enough. These are students who have full- or part-time jobs, are established in their communities, and simply can't move to another town or, if already in Portland, can't come to daytime classes. And I believe that having students from non-traditional backgrounds and of all ages really enriches our program.

What advice do you have for people who would like to follow in your path?

Get mentoring. Don't expect to be able to teach just because you are an expert in an area. And development of a course takes time. I have now helped develop four new courses for our curriculum and it is at least the second or third year before I become comfortable with the material. I try to get a lot of help from others the first year, then slowly make it my own course. Balancing teaching and the other activities that are expected of you in an academic career can be difficult. You rarely get paid for all of the time that it takes to teach.

Does the wide-ranging diversity of your students affect how you teach?

Definitely. You have to find a middle ground for the students, which can be difficult. Separating students into different courses based on their backgrounds (computer scientists vs. clinicians, for example) might be easier, but it is not practical, to begin with, and the interaction between these students is what helps them learn about the intersection of health care and technology, which, as I said before, is where medical informatics sits. 

For example, we require all of our Masters students to take at least two courses on campus. Since we have students from all over the world and they are often working part- or full-time, we started teaching what we call "hybrid" courses so that they can meet the residency requirement. These courses contain online work, but also require students to come to campus for an intensive three to five days for all-day sessions. These are great fun. You get people from all backgrounds out of their normal environments and all just being students. The interaction between them is a significant part of their education.