Two UNC Charlotte masters students are helping to meet real Charlotte needs with their skills in data and tech

Two UNC Charlotte masters students are helping to meet real Charlotte needs with their skills in data and tech
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When I hear terms like “interoperability work” and “dashboarding and longitudinal analysis for data metrics” I honestly have no idea how they translate to real world health care application.

But it’s completely clear for students like Rhonda Baker and Hanna Kirlin, who are Professional Science Masters (PSM) candidates in UNC Charlotte’s program in Health Informatics. For these two students, the program is a step that is helping them reconcile their desire to make a difference in health care while taking advantage of their analytical experience and expertise.


How did they both know they had found the right grad program? According to both women, it’s when “you find yourself reading your textbooks for fun.” Love it.


A little more about Rhonda:
“My day job is working for IBM. I’ve worked there for many years but as life happened, I gained this passion for health care and for wanting to improve the health care industry in some way. I went back to school (I have an undergrad degree in finance and accounting and an MBA from Duke), because UNC Charlotte had this great health informatics program, so that’s how I got into it. …

At IBM I manage relationships with large clients. Basically, I told IBM that I loved my job but that I wanted to support health clients. So now I support health care verticals so that work and school and life all intersect, which is a wonderful thing.”

A little more about Hanna:
“I have a BA from University of Colorado Boulder in Integrated Physiology, then went into the Peace Corps as a Rural Health Educator in Morocco until 2011. I definitely found my passion for public health, and I was in Uganda for 6 months as well. I got a certificate in global health from UNC-Chapel Hill and realized I really wanted my master’s in public health.

I found out about the health informatics PSM and enlisted in both – I’m currently a dual masters degree student in Public Health and Health Informatics. I also work full time with the Gaston County Health Department of Health and Human Services.”

The program

The Health Informatics program at UNC Charlotte is a collaboration between the College of Computing and Informatics and the College of Health and Human Services. It’s designed to help meet the demand for innovative health information technology professionals. The PSM degree is interdisciplinary and is considered the “M.B.A. for science and technology.”

The project

This summer, as a follow-up to the Introduction to Health Informatics class taught by Dr. Bill Saunders (Program Director, Health Informatics), Rhonda and Hanna worked with Supportive Housing Communities’ McCreesh Place. How could they use their analytical skills to help meet a real community need in Charlotte, specifically addressing the needs of chronically homeless and disabled?

Laying the foundation

“In a really basic way, we’re trying to make two different computer systems talk to each other,” explains Hanna. “We’re trying to get the medical records to talk to the homeless management information software (HMIS). And the reason we want that is because over all, we want to improve the quality of life for the residents of McCreesh Place.”

It’s simple things like knowing when doctor’s appointments are, knowing when prescriptions need to be filled, and having access to emergency room discharge paperwork that can make all the difference for preventive health care of residents.

And the ripple effect continues. Not only do these improvements immediately impact quality of life, but focusing on preventive care and providing a support network for the health of these residents can save the city millions of dollars.

The next step

Both students plan to continue involvement with McCreesh Place even though the summer program has ended. Hanna has decided to write a grant for McCreesh Place to receive health kiosks and other technology updates for her thesis project. Rhonda said she “fell in love with the mission” and plans to stay involved as the program continues as a volunteer.

This fall, Dr. Saunders and two students, Keri Carver and Shelby Setzer, are working with Rhonda, Hanna, and the team at McCreesh to continue the pilot program.

Does the Health Informatics program sound like the next step you’ve been looking for in your own career?

Applications for the Spring 2017 semester are due October 1. Learn more here.

Connect with UNC Charlotte 

Data Science and Business Analytics
Health Informatics PSM
UNC Charlotte

(Note: This content was co-created with UNC Charlotte.)

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