Briefly describe your career after leaving St. Francis.
I graduated St. Francis High in 1988 and went off to Northwestern University, just outside Chicago in Evanston, Illinois. I really loved Northwestern from the moment I first visited as a prospective student. I loved its deep winter snows, the proximity to downtown Chicago and its endless lake beaches, the diverse student body, and its course offerings. I ended up majoring in the History and Literature of Religions, but also focused on French and Pre-Medicine. In my junior year, I studied abroad in France, living in the towns of Tours and Paris. Also, in my very first months at Northwestern, I had a class conflict and had to take a class at an alternate time. There I met Ellie, the woman who would ultimately become my wife, now of over 20 years. Ellie and I now live in Nashville, with our three children, a dog, and a cat.
After Northwestern, I moved to Nashville to attend medical school at Vanderbilt, and never left. At Vandy, I went through four years of medical school and four years of residency training in the fields of internal medicine and pediatrics. I then spent two years of postdoctoral studies to pursue a master’s degree in public health. In addition, over the course of my residency training, I nurtured a growing interest in a field called biomedical informatics. Biomedical informatics is the interdisciplinary academic field dedicated to the study of how biomedical information, data, and knowledge are created, used, and stored during clinical patient care. I was fortunate to be at Vanderbilt, which houses one of the largest and highest impact clinical and academic departments of biomedical informatics in the country, and many of the field’s leaders are on the faculty here. During my fellowship, I began to build a research portfolio evaluating different computerized informatics programs, including electronic medical records, computerized tools to help doctors write notes, and websites where patients can log in to interact with their medical records and doctors’ offices.
I am currently the Vice Chair for Faculty Affairs and an Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics with secondary appointments in Medicine, Pediatrics, and the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt. I am also the Medical Director for a community-based, federally-qualified health center in Nashville. On the side, I am also the long-time race director for the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon, one of the most notoriously hilly road marathons in the country.
Looking back at your time at St. Francis, what stands out?
I have a lot of memories from my time at St. Francis, and many stand out. I remember the freedom of the open downtown campus, allowing easy access to the grit, beauty, and culture of mid-1980s urban Louisville. I remember the varied personalities of the diverse students and faculty members. I remember taking the city bus to school until my classmates were old enough to drive, then hitching in with them. I remember the Dizzy Whizz, Ollie’s, the Galleria, and the little New York-style pizza place around the corner. I remember reinventing myself several times, trying to find the right fit, and I remember having the safety to do so. I remember photon club, and fencing club, and yearbook club. I remember taking pictures of everybody and everything to fill the yearbook pages. I remember loads of little details, far too many to name here, from the kitchen co-op listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland for the first time in the student rec room and finally getting a shadow painted on the wall to enjoying fine English teas while studying AP Chemistry and reading as many books as I could to get credits for English class.
What are you currently working on?
People are increasingly taking control of their own healthcare and health-related information. As a big part of this, they are increasingly capturing health, wellness and clinical data about themselves, using a growing palette of inexpensive and pervasive technologies. These technologies allow people to record, analyze and curate health data outside of settings where healthcare is traditionally delivered, and without consistently involving healthcare professionals. Examples include wrist-worn accelerometers with software that calculates daily footsteps and sleep, GPS-enabled devices that track miles run or biked, web-based health journaling tools, smart online food diaries, and networked weight scales or blood pressure machines. People also use online resources, including portals to their doctor’s electronic medical record systems and social networks to help them use and interpret data both from these technologies and from more traditional medical testing. In many cases, these technologies can complement—or even replace—specific relationships with healthcare professionals.
Interestingly, while these technologies are incredibly widespread and interest in them continues to grow, there is almost no scientific research studying them. Scientifically, it is important to understand how these technologies influence people’s health, their engagement with healthcare systems, and their motivations. Anecdotal information has indicated that these technologies do improve engagement, and may improve health in certain settings, but may not in others. As a result, this area is ripe for research to help guide policy-making, decision-making and resource use. This is an area where I have been focusing my research and policy work in recent years.
How do you define success?
Frankly, I don’t focus on success. I focus on spending time doing what I feel is important. Perhaps that, to me, is success. I value being able to go to work every day and find what I do interesting, to enjoy the people I work with, and to walk away with a sense that I am contributing. Sometimes, that may mean spending the days in meetings moving my research forward. Other days, it may mean spending energy via creative thought in writing, design or even statistical analysis. Sometimes it even means butting heads with colleagues as I fight for what I believe in, or work to an appropriate compromise.
However, my job and work do not define me. I find it equally important to spend time out hiking with my wife or kids, exploring Tennessee’s myriad state parks, waterfalls, bluffs and geologic features. I take great satisfaction in spending a couple of weeks each summer volunteering as the doctor at a summer camp in rural northern Wisconsin, and seeing my children’s successes attending and thriving at their own camps. I find it important to take the time to work on my personal fitness and health, trying to keep in shape enough to run a marathon or a trail race. I find it important to have the time and flexibility to take long road trips with my family, whether it be to camp or just down to Chattanooga for a weekend of exploring. I find it important to have diverse interests in reading, cooking, fermenting (breads, cheeses, beers, pickles), and photography. To me, being able to foster these foci and balancing them with a professional life is important to me. Perhaps that is success.