Using Data for a Healthier World

Students in the Health Informatics and Analytics program envision better care through information technology
Four students tells us why they enrolled, what it’s like taking online classes, and how the program will help them achieve their career goals.
Four students tell us why they enrolled, what it’s like taking online classes, and how the program will help them achieve their career goals. Photo illustration: Momo Shinzawa
January 27, 2020

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The online Master’s in Health Informatics and Analytics program at Tufts University School of Medicine welcomed its first students in Fall 2019. The new program is designed for professionals in the health-care, data, and computer science fields, to give them the knowledge and skills to improve health care through information technology.

Health informatics is the collection and management of health data, including deciding what data to collect from patients and others and the design of the systems that collect it. Health analytics is about leveraging that data to answer pressing questions related to disease prevention and treatment, access to care, and health-care delivery.

Health professionals from both sides need to work closely together to ensure data quality and value, said Olaf Dammann, director of the Health Informatics and Analytics Program. At Tufts, the two tracks share introductory courses but split into informatics-related and analytical paths thereafter. “The informatics track focuses on how and for what purpose data are needed and used, while the analytics track zooms in on analytical methods, such as biostatistics and machine learning,” Dammann said.

Tufts Now caught up with four students to see why they enrolled, what it’s like taking online classes, and how the program will help them achieve their career goals.

Mulham AlassadMulham Alassad

Location: Medford, Massachusetts

What interested you about this program?

I'm a pharmacist, currently working at Mass General Brigham Specialty Pharmacy. I specialize in biologics for autoimmune conditions. I have always had an interest in computers and information technology, and I took several courses in the past in programming languages. When I saw the opening of the Tufts HIA program, and how perfectly it would fit my work schedule, I was immediately interested. I liked the combination of informatics and analytics, as I'm hoping to learn both.

How did the online aspect of the degree appeal to you? 

The flexibility of the program being online was a big advantage. I work full-time, and I would have had a long commute driving into downtown Boston for classes. I am also able to see the asynchronous class materials on any device. Being local, the program is especially appealing to me, because I can meet the professors in person sometimes.

What's it like getting a degree through an online program?

The live sessions are set up on Zoom, a video conferencing platform with the ability to share content and chat live with participants. It allows me to see and interact with all students and professors. Of course, there is nothing like seeing a person face to face, but the platform is built well, and serves the purpose of learning. 

How will this program help you reach your future career goals?

I have two interests: using machine learning for pharmacy/medical research and building better clinical decision support systems using real-time analytics. My goal is to lead a team to provide better patient care and more intuitive experiences for those working in health care.

Shreevidya PeriyasamyShreevidya Periyasamy

Location: Manchester, Connecticut

What interested you about this program?

Before this program, I studied at the University of Connecticut and was on a premed track. After graduation, I wasn’t sure if medicine was the right fit for me. I started applying for jobs and ended up working at a precision medicine center with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

One of the things precision medicine has focused on is collecting data that's supposed to be clinically relevant to help patients get a diagnosis and treatment. It was interesting to me to see people grappling with the amazing data they collected. They weren't sure how to manage it and collect it in an efficient way that answers the questions we were trying to examine. That sparked my interest in informatics and analytics.

How did the online aspect of the degree appeal to you? 

It took away those costs of having to be there in person. This was a great affordable option for me.

Also, the online aspect is helpful because I struggle in classes where I have to focus on what the professor is saying while frantically writing notes. Our classes have a transcript, so often I'll watch the video of the recorded lecture and then go back and look at the transcript to note important content.

What's it like getting a degree through an online program?

I really appreciate how flexible it is. When I first started my program, I was traveling out of the country for a wedding. I was able to attend my classes and view my coursework, and I didn't fall behind. All my professors were super responsive. They are flexible when necessary and will work with you to meet your course goals.

How will this program help you reach your future career goals?

My goal is to work as a data analyst or data scientist within either a biotech or a hospital setting, but more specifically within precision medicine. That's where my passion lies and where many of the tools we're learning about can be applied.

Claire TianClaire Tian

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

What interested you about this program?

I work for the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Tufts, where I analyze training and compliance data with the Business Operations team. Previously I worked in health administration at the Boston Medical Center Department of Psychiatry.

This program combines my two professional interests: public health and data analytics. Data technology has informed and transformed the way we think about health care. It’s an exciting time to study this growing field.

How did the online aspect of the degree appeal to you? 

The online aspect of the degree allows me to be better at time management. Working a full-time job while pursuing a master’s degree requires planning ahead, self-motivation, and work-life balance. I know I will gain valuable professional and organizational skills from completing this program.

What's it like getting a degree through an online program?

The weekly live meetings offer the chance for everyone to get to know each other through discussions and group activities. Being local in Boston, I have the opportunity to meet with professors and other classmates on campus. There are regularly scheduled student activities through the medical school where I get to meet students from other programs, as well.

The school also has a very robust academic support system for students, offering services such as student success advising, career planning, and networking events.

How will this program help you reach your future career goals?

Through this master’s program, I get to develop a deeper understanding of the emerging health information technologies. My career goal is to apply this knowledge to the field of mental health treatment and research, translating data into relevant and meaningful strategies for health-care organizations.

Philip BallentinePhilip Ballentine

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

What interested you about this program?

I attended Tufts University for undergrad. After school, I began working in health-care technology for Partners HealthCare in electronic health records system implementation. These experiences drove me to want to continue in the health-care technology domain and make people’s experiences of care more efficient, bearable, and, ultimately, productive and helpful for clinical research. 

How did the online aspect of the degree appeal to you? 

I had experience doing online courses from various sources, and I was a bit wary of not feeling supported by professors or sufficiently connected to my classmates. However, conversations with the professors convinced me that there would be plenty of interaction in this program. 

What's it like getting a degree through an online program?

I feel connected to my professors and classmates. For every live session, we are required to be dialed in with cameras on, ready to participate; that makes it much more interactive than any other online courses I have taken. We have recorded lectures, but the actual class sessions are very heavily focused on live discussion or presenting our projects.

How will this program help you reach your future career goals?

I want to unlock the value of the data we have collected in order to make health care better, more efficient, more effective, more available, and more humane for patients, their families, and providers. I think this program will equip me with more understanding of the general health-care domain and of the science and theories that allow us to turn data into information and knowledge. I will also learn from experts in the field about what they are doing and what their vision for health care is.