Hi! My name is Carolyn and I’m going to be a senior in the fall studying Informatics. Although my goal is to go into public health, I wanted to spend my undergrad studying statistics and engineering to apply to my future career.
On my first day at CHEPS, I immediately noticed how welcoming Amy and the rest of the staff were to new students. I felt then that no questions were dumb and mistakes would be seen as growth, not failure. Seeing Amy around the office while she was juggling tens of projects and her teaching responsibilities also showed me what a female mentor could be – someone who is deeply involved in each project and always willing to care for the students in this program.
The project that originally drew me to CHEPS and the one I have spent the majority of the last year on is the Eye Access project. With my interest in public health, I wanted to learn more about how a person’s geographic location affected their access to healthcare resources. For this project, we built models that distributed different types of eye care providers in various Georgia and Central Alabama locations to optimize the number of patients that are screened and treated. Screening is extremely important because it is a simple preventative measure for eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. Trained technicians can use technology to give screenings that can supplement care for areas that cannot afford to staff an ophthalmologist or optometrist. These areas are usually geographically rural with an aging population at increased risk for eye diseases.
It has been exciting seeing how telehealth is used in this Eye Access project and also how it is being expanded throughout our healthcare system. Especially with the current pandemic, screenings and treatments that can be done at home will begin to be more and more appealing. An online conference I attended earlier this month spoke about how smartphones can diagnose diseases before symptoms even appear through tracking heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen, and other measurements. The impact of catching asymptomatic diseases earlier is a really exciting vision presented by telehealth.
I’m also excited about how health technology can improve health inequities. A major focus in the field of public health is tackling root causes instead of spending absurd amounts of money after the problem has spiraled out of control. One root cause of health disparities is the systems of racism that have disproportionately distributed resources throughout history. As seen in this study on vision health disparities, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma prevalence are both higher in the African American community. By 2020, the number of people with eye diseases and vision loss could increase by 50% or more because of the aging of the U.S. population which will also disproportionately affect communities of color. With vision loss as a serious issue of public health disparity, I am thankful to work with CHEPS projects that are implemented through the lens of equity.
What I appreciate most about CHEPS is the constant opportunity to learn in the community – whether that’s someone helping me with a pesky Excel bug, the discussions about documentaries on racism, or the Q&A’s we get to have with alumni. During our lunch hours, we’ve also been watching a series on healthcare policy in the US and I’ve learned so much about the history of healthcare reform. Incorporating public health, policy, and the experiences of providers into healthcare engineering has helped me understand the system in a more holistic and complete way.
Although I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up after graduation, I hope to work in local government for a few years before attending public health graduate school. I’m so so thankful for this experience at CHEPS as it has solidified my desire to go into healthcare and shown me the power of technology to improve access to care, optimize hospital processes, and to work towards health equity for all people.