Elizabeth (Lizzie) Gonzales
Undergraduate Degree: Biology
Undergraduate Institution: Texas Christian University
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
How did you become interested in health informatics? Please feel free to describe any previous professional roles or education experiences that help lead you to your interest in health informatics.
Health informatics per the NIH is defined as "the development and assessment of methods and systems for the acquisition, processing, and interpretation of patient data with the help of knowledge from scientific research." Throughout high school and further into college, using scientific research and data to support new discovers and innovations was a peak interest of mine, along with recognizing a problem and yearning to find a solution. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as a scribe and observed the rigor of emergency medicine. I saw how physicians were quick to treat patients in the same manner based on similar symptoms and rarely change the treatment plan to individually suit each patient and their needs. The reason for this is simply because there isn't enough time to take into account every patient's individual stories, struggles, experiences, social determents of health, etc. in an emergency room setting. However, there is a great need. A person's sickness may not only be limited to their symptoms alone. Often times, their sickness is based on a variety of factors including mental health, physical limitations, social struggles, dietary restrictions, etc. Maybe a person is sick with comorbidities because their situation at home has led them to develop depression, their home location is in a food desert, they have a family history of this illness, and their incorporation of cultural foods leads to a poor diet regimen. A person's illness is rarely ever limited to just symptoms they are presenting and usually needs to be researched to find the root of their illness by looking at the different aspects of their life and lifestyle as contributing factors. After working as a scribe, I recognized the importance of looking at multiple aspects of patients' illness and tailoring medicine to fit the individual rather than sticking to the same patterns that often lead to malpractice. In my undergraduate anthropological studies, I recall many case studies where patients' illness was affected by the different aspects of their culture and lifestyle. I became interested in health informatics because this field aims to use patient data and research to come up with better solutions in healthcare. The field is often patient centered and is designed to to help physicians make better informed decisions regarding patient care. Health informatics encompasses tools and decision support that provide physicians with tools that can be used in their everyday practice to transform medicine into a more holistic approach. Not only does health informatics help with holistic care approach for patients, but also using evidence based medicine and metadata to further new discoveries that could impact large populations of people and transform the future of healthcare today. The most intriguing part about the health informatics field and why it interests me the most is because there are always new challenges presented. This field is never stagnant or dull and is constantly adapting to need new projects, tools, and innovations based on the fast changing and quickly developing field of medicine.
Why did you choose to come to UTSW?
When deciding on a university for my graduate studies, I desired to attend a university that had a strong mission statement and strong core values. UTSW exceeded my expectations. The university values include excellence, teamwork, compassion, and innovation, all values that match my core values. I wanted a university that was recognized for its research, for its faculty, for its discoveries, etc. UTSW is highly recognized for its excellence in majority of areas including research and scientific innovations. I also wanted to attend a university where I would feel included amongst my peers. I read that UTSW had a diversity of students and aimed for inclusion in all areas. I wanted a place I would feel at home at and could be myself. Teamwork was also important to me because I aimed to be close with my peers and to create lifelong friendships and relationships here that I would carry with me later in my academic career. Not only with students, but also having a mentor relationship with the faculty of UTSW and feel their support as they watch you accomplish your career dreams and are alongside you on your journey to assist you with anything you may need. UTSW had all these aspects I desired in a university and much more. From the beginning of the application process, I felt a sense of belonging and could see myself calling UTSW my home and wanted to attend no other university than UTSW.
What are your current health informatics research interests?
My current health informatics research interest includes looking at other forms of treatment for patients with chronic pain. I have researched previously that the dependence on opioids for chronic pain management is becoming more of an issue and there is a need for a better solution. Another aspect is primary care physicians feel the burden of caring for chronic pain patients and often desire to reach out to other specialists for their expertise and incorporate shared decision making. I am researching and am currently in the process of developing a patient personal profile within EPIC that can include the patient's chronic condition, past medical history, current treatment, past treatments, and current pain scale so that their information is easily accessible in one location and can be distributed to other specialists as needed. This can encourage shared decision support and other non opioid dependent treatments. This also helps the patient feel included in his/her care journey plan. As previously mentioned, the need for non opioid dependent therapy for chronic pain management has been a large need that needs a better developed solution.
What do you love about your program or why should a prospective student decide to get their degree here?
What I love about the MSHI program thus far is that the professors are more than willing to meet with you if you are struggling with any concept. They make sure you know that they are eager to help and they in no way ever make you feel ashamed for needing more reinforcement on a concept or extra help. The professors are also extremely knowledgeable and accomplished and make great role models for your academic career. I have no doubt that they will provide me with the resources I need to be successful. I have learned so much thus far and can't wait to see what the rest of the semester holds. Prospective students should look forward to MSHI classes being challenging, but also full of knowledge that will pave the way and give them the tools they need to have a successful career after the program.