As a child, Rimma Perotte loved math and science and felt it was cool to be smart in school. She also loved going to the doctor where clinicians asked, “How are you feeling?” and helped people feel better. These interests caused Rimma to consider a career in medicine, but she didn’t see being a clinician as a good fit. She decided to study math and biology while in college at Northeastern University to see where that took her.
Part of the student experience at Northeastern involves internships. Seeking internships that combined her interests in math and biology, as well as computer science, she interned in a genetics lab (which she liked), a chemistry lab (which wasn’t for her), and at the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School (CBMI), which exposed her to the world of bioinformatics.
While at CBMI, Rimma became fascinated by the emerging field of biomedical informatics. She saw this as a potential non-clinical career in healthcare where she could use her skills in math and computer science to make a difference. She also realized that with health systems and providers adopting electronic health records (EHRs), the amount of data was starting to explode. She heard a great deal of conversation such as, “We’re getting more and more data, but we have no idea what to do with it.”
During her time at CBMI Rimma sensed tremendous enthusiasm for biomedical informatics. It didn’t feel like a stodgy academic environment. Surrounded by smart, interesting, passionate PhDs, Rimma felt that proceeding to get a master’s and a PhD in biomedical informatics seemed like the obvious next step.
CBMI’s Director Zak Kohane suggested that Rimma apply to Columbia University, which was known for doing analysis of electronic health record data. Despite not wanting to be in New York City, Rimma loved everything about the Biomedical Informatics Department at Columbia. She want straight from Northeastern to Columbia, where she received her master’s in 2012 and PhD in 2016.
At Columbia, Rimma’s focus was mining data from EHRs. She worked on ways to combine EHR data with other types of healthcare data to create a holistic view of a patient.
Upon completing her PhD, Rimma saw numerous career paths for bioinformaticists. She could have stayed in academia and become a professor, or could work at a hospital, join a startup, or go to a company such as Google or Apple.
As her next step, Rimma chose to join the staff of New York-Presbyterian Hospital where she is a program director for research science. She saw this position as an exciting opportunity to participate in projects that could have a direct, positive impact on patients.
Rimma has been involved in starting a new group at the hospital doing research and evaluation. Hospitals, which are working to transform healthcare, frequently conduct pilots. These pilots need to be carefully evaluated in a rigorous way, which requires the skills of informaticists.
“We were asked to take our biomedical expertise and do research on the hospital. . . . Hospitals are trying pilots all the time. Making sure these pilots are evaluated in a rigorous way is what we’re working on. That’s really exciting to me.”
Rimma enjoyes working as part of a diverse, collaborative team in solving important, complex problems that make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives and in healthcare. She also loves that her skills as an informaticist are valued by her clinical colleagues and that her work is helping doctors and patients.
In addition, Rimma is part of the faculty at Columbia’s Biomedical Informatics Department. She teaches a practical class to future informaticians about what really happens in hospitals. Classes include discussions about how hospitals really operate, about the patient experience, and about physicians’ needs at the point of care. This is real-world information she felt was lacking from biomedical informatics programs.
As the amount of data continues to grow, the field of biomedical informatics will continue to grow. Rimma sees this as a tremendously exciting time to be in this space.
“We’ve been saying for years, ‘This is the right time for biomedical informatics.’ And it’s still the right time for biomedical informatics. We have so many problems in healthcare that we haven’t fixed. Come help us.”