Connections  Career Paths in Biomedical Informatics
Cameron Coleman, Jr., MD, MPS
Trained as a postdoctoral fellow at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Cameron Coleman is completing his residency in preventive medicine at the University of North Carolina Hospitals. He received a master’s degree in biomedical and health informatics, which he is using to focus on quality improvement and population health.

Always on a pre-med path

Cameron Coleman grew up in a small, rural community in Virginia. After concluding that his childhood desire to drive an ice cream truck was probably not a sustainable career, he set his sights on healthcare. He had significant exposure to healthcare, as his father was a primary care doctor.

Cameron liked most academic subjects, particularly math and science. In entering college at the University of Virgina, Cameron decided to pursue a pre-med track, taking courses in biology and chemistry, and majoring in human biology. His thesis involved studying supposed miracle treatments for obesity, which he concluded didn’t work.

One summer during college Cameron became certified as an EMT. He rode with a rescue squad and saw care delivered on the front line, which was thrilling and reinforced his interest in healthcare. He also worked as a medical scribe at a healthcare facility. This institution had just implemented an electronic health record (EHR), which was a disaster. The institution had to bring in pre-med students to help clinicians with documentation. This experience exposed Cameron to the complexity of the healthcare system and the importance of technology, systems, and processes. Cameron believes this experience planted the seed for his interest in informatics.

Cameron took a year off after college to work as a full-time scribe in an emergency department. While this was a different healthcare facility than he worked at previously, he saw the same frustrations in adopting EHRs and saw the same need to optimize IT systems and improve processes.

Solving Big Problems

Cameron continued on to medical school at the University of Virginia. In med school he got involved in a research project focused on optimizing EHRs and making them easier to use. This was his first exposure to informatics.

During his internship at the University of North Carolina Hospitals, Cameron was frustrated with the IT systems being used and the negative impact these systems had. His frustration caused him to reflect on how he might use his medical training to solve bigger, systemic problems.

“I was asking myself what do I want to be working on in 5, 10, or 20 years? At the time, my answer was that individual patient care may not be what I want to be doing, but I may want to solve these bigger problems, a lot of which start with technology.”

At the end of his UNC internship, Cameron had an opportunity to spend a postdoc year doing research and taking courses in informatics, which resulted in pursuing a Master’s in Biomedical and Health Informatics. Because he didn’t have a technology or programming background, Cameron initially felt a bit overwhelmed. He focused on learning about computer programming, databases, and how EHRs work. Over time he grew comfortable with the language and tools of biomedical informatics.

Cameron was excited about being able to do translational informatics in the real world, work on hospital quality improvement initiatives, and use skills he acquired, such as querying database systems to identify patients.

New Career Paths

While at UNC, the director of the National Library of Medicine spoke at the institution. She said in the past, the pathway to a healthcare career was through clinical work. In the future, a career in healthcare will be through technical work. This perspective opened Cameron’s eyes to possibilities gained through his skills and experiences. Cameron says his degree in biomedical informatics has “opened a lot of doors.”

“There is so much opportunity for people with both clinical training and informatics training to make clinical care systems work better.”

As Cameron completes his residency in preventive medicine, he sees patients a few days each week, but is also thinking more broadly. He is focused on improving population health and working on hospital and outpatient quality improvement initiatives, and spends time with state and local health departments.

Cameron sees technology and informatics becoming more integrated with public and population health. As technology becomes better integrated, he believes it will become more intuitive and easier to use. It will make it easier and more fun for physicians like his father to practice medicine, which will ultimately improve patient care and population health.

Trainee information current as of 2019.