Sarah Bach graduated from the HEPS Master’s Program and the Department of Industrial & Operations Engineering in December 2014 during which her main research focused on process improvement at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. After graduation Sarah recently started a fellowship as a Health Systems Engineer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. She is already realizing how well her experiences with CHEPS have prepared her for a career in healthcare and looks forward to transforming healthcare delivery and impacting patient’s lives through engineering!
Disclaimer: This is a transcript from a verbal interview
What kind of research are you excited about?
I think it is really exciting to be doing research in the healthcare system regarding how we can improve the existing system to really impact patient’s lives. Applying engineering tools toward that goal is really exciting.
How do you think engineers and healthcare professionals can work together to improve patient care?
I think that is one of the biggest benefits of CHEPS. Having the interaction between healthcare providers and engineers, being able to speak each other’s languages, and understanding the world they are in and are coming from really benefits collaboration and helps us achieve better care for patients.
What makes CHEPS unique compared to other teams or projects you have been a part of?
I think there are a lot of things that make CHEPS unique. First of all, it consists of a great group of students and people are really motivated. You don’t have the problem with other project teams that I have been on where people are not contributing or pulling their weight. It’s a really great place to be and you learn so much from the people with whom you work. The diversity of backgrounds is really great too. We have people from both sides, engineering and healthcare, as well as students of various levels. I think it makes it a really great environment.
What do you like most about working with CHEPS?
I think it’s the people. The environment and community created here are fantastic. You can ask somebody who is not even on your project a question you may have about how to do something and get assistance. People are really willing to help each other learn which is something I have really enjoyed with CHEPS. It’s also great to be able to see the variety of projects going on at CHEPS. I’ve learned a lot from hearing about and being around projects even if I’m not directly involved. The opportunity to learn about so many cool applications of engineering in healthcare is a great experience.
What surprised you most about working with healthcare professionals?
I guess one surprising thing is how interested some have become, even in the tools and methodologies we are using. I would have previously assumed that they would not want to understand some of the math or data analysis that we are working on. However, having collaborators ask how we do things and having them interested in not only the solutions and answers we provide them, but also in the engineering tools we use to get to our conclusions is really great to see.
How has working with healthcare professionals changed or altered your way of thinking about healthcare problems?
I think that is one of the huge benefits of being at CHEPS. I think I take a completely different mindset when I approach a problem now than I would have prior to my experience with CHEPS. Not coming at the problem with just an engineering mindset, but being able to understand how it affects clinical workflow and how it affects the practitioners we’re working with definitely changes how you frame problems. Additionally, it changes how you look at the problems, what analysis you’re going to do, how you present that analysis to them, and what you ultimately recommend. I think overall I’ve learned to appreciate the complexity of many healthcare problems and the need for a very thorough understanding of the background and current state of the problem before improvement is attempted.
How has working with healthcare professionals changed or altered your approach to tackling problems?
I think it’s really important to first understand how they see problems and understand how what we’re doing affects what they do on a day-to-day basis. For the chemo project, we have suggested things and later realized that our suggestions are infeasible because they don’t fit with the clinician’s workflow in the electronic medical record. I’ve learned to take more time to understand the problem’s context. You have to dive deeper and figure out how it affects not only doctors, but how it affects other staff such as medical assistants, nurses, and clerical staff. There are so many interconnected pieces and moving parts in healthcare that having a systems perspective is incredibly valuable, but it definitely requires time to understand the full scope of a problem and its effects.
How has CHEPS influenced your plans for the future?
I became interested in healthcare senior year of undergrad when I was already planning on doing my master’s. However, CHEPS has really solidified my desire to go into healthcare and has provided me with opportunities that I definitely wouldn’t have had otherwise. Being a part of this program, doing the research I’ve done, and developing the connections I have through Amy and other professors I have worked with has had a big impact on my future. I am so grateful to have been a part of CHEPS.
How is CHEPS preparing you for the “real-world”?
I think the whole research aspect is really applicable to what I will be doing in the real-world. Having that experience in research and actual healthcare environment has really prepared me for what I will be doing. Being able to go into interviews and say that you’ve done these projects with actual practitioners, you’ve tried implementing things, and you’ve led project teams are skills that companies really value and CHEPS provides us with that opportunity.
Can I make a post grad note now that I’m two weeks into the real world?? Because I cannot imagine how lost I would be starting this job having not had my experiences in healthcare through CHEPS. Understanding, even at a basic level, hospital operations, medical terminology, and recent trends in healthcare has allowed me to jump right in and feel comfortable in a healthcare environment.
What is one concrete example of something that has changed/improved or could change/improve in the future due to the projects you’re working on?
For the chemo project, one thing we’re looking at is changing how patients get their labs done prior to their chemotherapy appointments. Patients often have to wait a long time for their lab results, which they need before going to their doctor’s visit or before receiving their chemotherapy infusion. We’re looking at different ways to improve that process. One way is having patients get their labs drawn the day before if it is convenient for the patient. Many patients live close to satellite facilities where they can get their labs done. The cancer center is working on implementing a pilot of this and hopefully we will see decrease wait times for patients which would have a big impact on their day.
Originally published on 2/5/2015.