Born in Miami to Cuban immigrants, Peter Embi comes from a long line of healthcare professionals. Peter followed suit with an affinity for science and a desire to be a doctor which began in childhood, when Peter dressed up as a doctor for Halloween.
In college at the University of Florida, Peter majored in microbiology and cell science on a pre-med track. He continued on to medical school at the University of South Florida.
After his first year of medical school Peter bought his first computer. He spent his summer learning about the World Wide Web and teaching himself to code websites. Upon returning to medical school he learned about an elective called “medical informatics” that opened his eyes to the intersection of computers and healthcare. Also during this time, Peter became interested in the use of early handheld devices in healthcare, like the Apple Newton.
“I thought, ‘Wow. There’s a field at this intersection of computers and healthcare. That’s kind of cool.’”
At this point, Peter was completely focused on medical training, not informatics. Yet, as he explored residencies in internal medicine, he hoped to find a residency program with a medical informatics program. It turns out, he did his residency at Oregon Health & Science University, which also had an informatics program.
During his residency, Peter interacted with the informatics group and worked on projects using technology to improve medical education. In taking on his chief residency, Peter wanted to do even more in informatics. He enrolled in a fellowship and a master’s program in medical informatics. His thesis, which he worked on as electronic health records (EHRs) were being adopted, was about the transition from paper-based documents to computer-based records.
Throughout this fellowship and master’s, Peter developed knowledge in areas such as biostatistics and epidemiology, computer science, programming, and database design. It was also his first exposure to organizational behavior and change management.
Upon completing his program in Oregon, Peter went on to a fellowship in rheumatology and immunology at the Cleveland Clinic. Looking back, Peter said, “I was going to be a rheumatologist who had this niche in informatics rather than the way it turned out.”
When Peter joined the Cleveland Clinic, the organization was deploying its first EHR. Peter’s primary focus was in rheumatology and immunology, but he was also interested in studying use of EHRs to improve research. At the time there was little research on EHRs and decision support to improve research decision making. Peter proceeded to conduct research in this area, now called clinical research informatics, and wrote some of the definitional papers establishing this as a sub-discipline.
With a passion for teaching and research, Peter decided to stay in academia. His first faculty position was at the University of Cincinnati (UC) as a rheumatologist while continuing work on using EHRs to enhance research. During his six years at UC he also developed a business plan that led to the establishment of a Center for Health Informatics.
Peter’s next step took him to Ohio State University (OSU) as vice chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. While at OSU, Peter had the idea of a new position at the intersection of healthcare systems and research—the chief research information officer (CRIO). He sold this idea internally and was the first person in the country to serve as a CRIO, an idea that has grown nationally.
In 2016, Peter was selected as president and CEO of the Regenstrief Institute. Regenstrief is legendary because of its innovations and impact. It is known for its Center for Biomedical Informatics, as well as strengths in health services research and aging research. Regenstrief is unique as an institute with health services researchers, informaticians, implementation scientists, and experts in domains such as aging and brain health.
“What I find most rewarding is the ability to have an impact that could lead to substantial and sustained changes in a health system that needs to be improved.”
From his current perspective Peter sees tremendous opportunities for physician informaticians to have vibrant careers with significant impact. And because informatics is so interdisciplinary, practitioners who are not clinicians can also have enormous impact.
Peter advises students pursuing informatics to take every opportunity to learn and explore in disciplines such as computer science, data science, biostatistics, and epidemiology. He also suggests gaining experience in healthcare by volunteering or finding an opportunity to shadow someone.
Going forward, as bioinformatics matures, Peter sees informatics leading to a learning healthcare system. Constant feedback loops will drive improvements in quality and efficiency.