Connections  Career Paths in Biomedical Informatics
Nate Apathy, PhD Student, Indiana University
Trained as a predoctoral fellow at Indiana University/Regenstrief Institute

With plans to receive his PhD in 2020, Nate Apathy hopes to pursue a career in academia. His passions are using population health informatics to improve public health and determining the most appropriate regulatory structures to benefit society. Nate’s research interests are around health information exchange and interoperability.

Producing Tangible Output

Since he first worked on his high school newspaper, Nate has been motivated to produce something with a tangible output. He has since sought projects and work where he is involved in creating something tangible that has meaningful impact.

In college, Nate was fascinated by and majored in economics, with an interest in the behavioral and cognitive factors that affect how people make decisions. His junior and senior years, Nate worked on a project that involved writing business plans for biotech startups. This was his initial exposure to healthcare and led him to realize, “I want to be in healthcare or some health-related field.”

After graduation, Nate combined his longtime interest in a tangible output and his newfound interest in healthcare and went to work for Cerner, one of the world’s leading EHR companies. As an economics major, he initially felt overwhelmed in this technology environment. But the training and the collaborative culture led him to conclude, “I can do this.” He learned about relational databases, gained an introduction to informatics, and built software systems used in hospitals. He found it gratifying when he saw someone in a hospital using a system he had helped build.

Informatics for Population and Public Health

During Nate’s time at Cerner, meaningful use regulations were impacting all health systems and provider practices, driving the widespread adoption of electronic health records. However, Nate observed firsthand that some of the regulatory requirements that were imposed made physicians do a great deal of work that wasn’t directly related to better patient care or outcomes.

This experience led Nate to decide to go back to school to learn more about regulation, policy, and informatics. Nate chose the Public & Population Health Informatics program at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University. This was a rare informatics program within a school of public health. Nate began this program in 2016 and expects to receive his PhD in Health Policy and Management in 2020.

IU’s unique program combines a focus on innovative informatics work with a concentration on regulation and policy. The program is situated in the middle of multiple healthcare systems, including a children’s hospital, a public safety net hospital, a VA hospital, a university hospital, and a cancer center.

The emphasis of the program is using public and population health informatics to improve public health. The program provides a robust data infrastructure, expert mentors, and flexibility to come up with ideas, engage in creative conversations, and conduct research.

“The IU program sits at the intersection of classic sort of health policy and management, or epidemiological research and training, and informatics applications. You get to apply informatics to epidemiological problems; you get to apply informatics to health policy and management problems.”

Nate’s research interests are largely around health information exchange and interoperability. He looks at what types of incentives and regulations will get providers and health systems to exchange data so that physicians will have complete information when caring for patients. Nate has also participated in hackathons (including one in Israel) and has worked on projects to use informatics to develop solutions for clinicians at the point of care.

“Being able to build a flexible system that prioritizes information that gets exchanged so clinicians can have the most important information at their fingertips at the point of care, that is a question I could work on for 10 years.”

Nate’s perspective is that the field of informatics benefits from having people with a broad diversity of backgrounds and approaches, including healthcare experts, engineers, and technologists, as well as economics majors like Nate. While Nate initially asked questions such as “What is DNA?” his experience has convinced him that everything can be learned.

Nate sees the fields of healthcare and informatics as collaborative environments. These fields at this moment in time are an exciting place to work with people and data on population health and regulatory questions that have the potential to dramatically improve public health.

Trainee information current as of 2019.