The Institute Goes Global

International partnerships are creating opportunities for cross-cultural informatics training and workforce development.

The Institute for Informatics, Data Science and Biostatistics (I²DB) at Washington University in St. Louis is sharing its expertise on an international stage. Informatics workshops give students and faculty both here and abroad the opportunity to gain valuable insights into foreign healthcare systems, informatics practices and research.

To that end, I²DB has ongoing collaborations with two highly respected global institutions: the Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD) in Santiago, Chile, and Fudan University in Shanghai, China. UDD boasts a top-ranked medical school and is home to the Center for Innovation and Research in Biomedical Informatics. Fudan University is a leader in China’s business management education and a long-time Executive MBA partner of the Washington University Olin School of Business. “We have proactively sought out international partners who we have an existing relationship with, either at the university level or with research or education efforts,” says Dr. Randi Foraker, Director of I²DB’s Center for Population Health Informatics and Professor of Medicine within the Division of General Medical Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “By providing the workshops on site at that university, we strengthen those institutional relationships around shared research and education goals.”

Workshop Success in Chile

To launch its international programming, I²DB hosted a three-day Applied Clinical Informatics and Data Analytics Workshop at UDD in fall 2018, which was attended by approximately 35 UDD medical school students and PhD students, as well as industry and healthcare professionals from Chile and Latin America. A multidisciplinary cross section of I²DB and UDD faculty and staff co-developed and taught the workshop, drawing upon their deep expertise in the fields of artificial intelligence, epidemiology, clinical research informatics and translational bioinformatics. Intentionally designed for small-group, applied learning, the workshop was structured to include didactic lectures and hands-on case studies and laboratory experiments.

“Our focus was on the practical application of informatics tools and techniques that were designed to advance science,” Dr. Foraker says. “And due to the clinical informatics focus, it was also designed to improve care delivery and healthcare system performance from an informatics perspective.”

The three-day Applied Clinical Informatics and Data Analytics Workshop at the Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD) in Santiago, Chile, in fall 2018, was attended by medical school students and PhD students, as well as healthcare professionals.

Expansion in Chile

Building upon the success of that initial workshop, I²DB hosted a second seminar in Santiago, Chile, in September 2019. The five-day event included a day dedicated to UDD medical and graduate students, with the remainder of the week targeted to in-career learners in industry, healthcare and academia. The week culminated with a networking session and presentations by industry leaders.

“We view these workshops as opportunities for our faculty, staff and students to connect with people in different healthcare systems and participate in practical, on-the-ground informatics training,” says Andrea Krussel, Director of Education and Workforce Development in the Office of Health Information and Data Science.

The new collaborations are also in step with the university’s larger commitment to expanding its global reach. “[The institute] wants to be seen as cross-cutting and collaborative, and these international partnerships fit nicely into this,” Krussel says.

Pandemic disruptions

Like much of everything, the pandemic forced a pause on international education and training development as travel came to a halt and attention shifted to pandemic operations of the medical center, as well as virtual teaching, learning and work. A virtual workshop was held with our ongoing collaborators at Fudan University and we continue to strengthen our existing international network as well as explore new collaborative opportunities.

Training the Informatics Workforce of the Future

I²DB is working toward developing an executive certificate program in biomedical informatics and is using the workshops as a sort of proving ground, taking lessons learned from these early offerings and modularizing the curriculum so it will be compatible with other educational settings.

“What we are focusing on is developing case studies and laboratory activities that are translatable to a number of different settings and then using standard terminologies so that we’re sure the activities that we’re having the students do can be taken back to their research or place of work and directly applied,” Dr. Foraker says.

With its international programming, II²DB anticipates that students, faculty and industry professionals will benefit from the sharing of international healthcare system perspectives, tools and methodologies.

“When we’re training informaticians we need to keep in mind that they won’t be working in silos,” Dr. Foraker says. “There’s a real focus moving forward on these tools and methodologies being interoperable and being useful to groups outside your own, whether that be a working group or a team of scientists. No longer are we successful if we can develop a one-off solution to a problem; it really has to be generalizable. And so, the ability to think bigger and to be able to gain the perspectives from experts in your field from other countries is invaluable.”

Faculty or students interested in attending either of the upcoming workshops should contact Andrea Krussel.