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Forging a Personalized Career Path with a Degree in Health Informatics

Rachel Kranick recently graduated from The University of Scranton’s M.S. in Health Informatics program after completing her undergraduate degree in biology with pre-veterinary and environmental studies tracks. Rachel chose The University of Scranton’s health informatics master’s degree program because she was looking for a graduate degree that would set her apart on her route to vet school or other animal care career paths, and her biology professor recommended health informatics.

Through the M.S. in Health Informatics, Rachel discovered that health informatics could apply outside the traditional medical field. Keep reading to find out how!

The Unique Potential of Health Informatics

As she applied to the health informatics program, Rachel knew that she wanted to find a way to apply health informatics to the veterinary field. Rachel said that not many people think about health informatics as work with animals, “But the way I think of it is that there are animal patients just like there are human patients.” With that mindset, and her past preceptor experience as an informaticist with a large healthcare system in her community, Rachel and her faculty advisor set out to develop a capstone project that suited her career goals.

As she completed her health informatics coursework, Rachel began interning at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. Throughout her capstone course in the fall of 2020, Rachel was working full-time at the zoo as a Conservation Educator and Ambassador Animal Keeper. She gained inspiration from her work by asking how health informatics could aid the animal care field.

Turning a Passion into a Project

Rachel’s successful capstone project applied her interest in the veterinary field by studying diseases that can be transferred between humans and animals (called zoonotic diseases). Working closely with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, Rachel’s project examined how health informatics could determine the zoonotic potential of Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a bacterium that can lead to intestinal infections/disease affecting humans and animals.

C. diff can have devastating effects on people, and creating awareness about the possible animal-to-human transmission is crucial. Preventing C. diff is especially important for people who are at high risk of complications from the disease, such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those who work with livestock.

Rachel found that tracking C. diff transmission is rarely addressed when diagnosed and treated at a hospital. Her project asked the question: How could health informatics and electronic health records help track the progression of C. diff in both animals and humans?

Applying the Results

Through her capstone project, Rachel developed a questionnaire about the daily routines of people whose pets were diagnosed with C. diff. These household details determined the appropriate question to come next, and then Rachel collected and analyzed the data to find patterns of C. diff transmission. “It’s similar to you going to the doctor and the doctor asking a bunch of different questions about your experience,” Rachel said. “If a trigger is mentioned, the appropriate data set would come up automatically for those professionals.” If more veterinarians’ offices and health care providers applied the same questions and triggers, they could more easily track C. diff and learn more about how it’s transmitted. These electronic health records can even help track and treat many other types of diseases.

Reflecting on the Experience

When thinking about her capstone research experience, Rachel said she enjoyed the opportunity to do a project that didn’t fit the standard program path. “I was able to find something that I was truly interested in and have the resources to help me get there.” Her project opened the door to research questions in the realm between animal health and human health.

How Health Informatics Helped

Students well-versed in health informatics understand how to implement data-driven solutions to health problems. Health informatics professionals can aggregate and make predictions based on thousands of thousands of records, which helps a clinician contextualize symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis/treatment faster. As a result of the health informatics program, “I was able to see what an electronic health record professional looks like and what they do in a health network,” Rachel said. “I had hands-on experience using a simulator for my electronic health records course that I could apply to my capstone course.” Because her experience was so successful, Rachel is currently investigating outlets for publishing her research as an article.

About Scranton’s Health Informatics Program

Coming into the M.S. in Health Informatics degree program, Rachel says that “I didn’t have too much of a background in health informatics, but now I can’t see the health field without it.” Scranton’s program helped her see that health informatics is only getting more popular and more important as technology influences the delivery and quality of health care. Any student in the health informatics degree program at Scranton can take the degree in the direction of their interests. Thanks to the program’s flexibility, personalization, and availability of expert instructors, Rachel said, “Scranton gave me the best program I could have asked for in this field.”

If you’re interested in reaching your career goals through The University of Scranton’s M.S. in Health Informatics program, you can learn more by reading the program’s website or requesting more information today.