In the weeks leading to the summer of 2013, I was packing my bags getting ready for a summer of research and public interest communications in D.C. At the time, I had just finished the core requirements as a Mathematics/Statistics major at Carleton College, and I had taken an eye-opening sociology class on race and ethnicity. I researched the education non-profit I had been selected to work with, the Education Trust, and I eagerly counted the days until I flew out to D.C. to start.
Fast forward to almost three years later, I am working at the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI) in Dallas, Texas where we develop cutting-edge technology to connect hospitals with social service organizations as well as machine learning algorithms to help predict adverse medical events (such as the onset of Sepsis in the emergency room). Now, if you will bear with me for a few more paragraphs, I illustrate how I transitioned from advocating for low income students and student of color at the Ed Trust to developing clinical decision support algorithms.
Our Karel Fellow class (see Karel Fellows ’13 ) combined people from all different backgrounds and placed us in D.C. to bring plurality to the field of Public Interest Communications. It placed me in a group of very talented and passionate individuals from whom I learned greatly, and it provided a great set of mentor figures (some with whom I still stay in very close contact).
I take this opportunity not to talk about my actual summer in D.C. but about what happened afterwards as that’s when I had some of my biggest breakthroughs figuring out this thing called our future. As part of the Karel Fellowship, you get to speak at the Frank Gathering, a great event hosted in Gainesville by the University of Florida, where you meet students, professionals, activists and a variety of individuals connected by their desire to use communications to bring forth the much needed social change our world needs. The Frank Gathering gave me an opportunity to connect with new individuals, reconnect with old friends and mentors from D.C., and share my story.
The first day, we were divided into small groups in order to break the ice and facilitate our desire to connect with complete strangers. Ben Milder was our team leader, and I remember getting an email from him prior to Frank asking me to describe myself in a couple sentences and to list my favorite candy. I found it a bit odd, but I was very pleasantly surprised when that first day he greeted each member of our group with our respective favorite sweets. That’s when I began thinking, this guy is pretty legit. Our group attended a few more events (including an interview of Piper Chapman) and each fellow gave their respective talks.
The very last event of Frank was a sort of going away lunch where I had a chance to have a one-on-one with Ben, and he asked me, ‘What do you want do?’ I told him that prior to the Karel Fellowship, I had done a research internship in statistical genetics, and that I really wanted to go back into applications of statistics in biology and medicine. He asked me if I was interested in working with hospitals, as he had connections in Dallas – PCCI – who were doing pretty interesting math and statistics work in biomedical informatics. I checked them out, applied for a job, and began working for them approximately 5 months after that lunch with Ben.
At the PCCI, I have had the fortune of being able to tackle very interesting problems and work with smart individuals who have mentored me and pushed me to grow in many different directions. Parkland Hospital is a public, safety-net hospital in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area that treats what you can call the most vulnerable patients, and our Center for Clinical Innovation is a not-for-profit clinical research institute aimed at leveraging technology in order to face some of healthcare’s biggest challenges. I work with a team of clinicians, computer scientists, and mathematicians who are all facing this generation’s biggest health care informatics challenges.
In my very first project, I worked closely with the Transitive Care Unit (TCU) at Parkland Hospital doing data analyses for them. The TCU at Parkland was an initiative composed of a group of nurses who basically were focused on treating the sickest and most vulnerable patients. We did descriptive statistical analyses to complement the hands on the ground approach with a population-level approach in order to find trends that could better inform decisions within their group and the hospital at general. After this project, I transitioned into a pediatric asthma initiative aimed at reducing asthma-related emergency room visits. I helped develop a predictive model and developed statistical reports to help guide case-managers’ interventions with their pediatric asthma patients. Most recently, I have been working on early-detection algorithms to identify Sepsis in the Emergency room as Sepsis is a condition that results from your body fighting infections and it can cause your body to deteriorate relatively quickly leading to organ failure and potentially death. Sepsis is one of the leading causes of death in hospitals in the U.S., the New York Times’ piece covering the fatal effects of not detecting Sepsis on time in 12-year old Rory Staunton led to more awareness.
I look back at those weeks leading to the summer of 2013 (and those summer nights at the Capitol building jamming out with the security guards) with gratitude and excitement. I was beginning my current adventure, discovering the world of opportunities available and meeting incredible people along the way.
To the class of 2016 Karel Fellows, you are about to begin one incredible summer. I would urge you to stay curious and keep learning. You have a great number of resources in your fellow Karel Fellows, the Karel Alums, and the entire Karel Fellowship team. Go out and live your story, so that you can come back and share it with us in due time. I look forward to hearing about the great deeds you’ll accomplish.
Samir Rachid Zaim Karel ‘13