For the Love of Data and Improving Health Outcomes

Shreevidya Periyasamy found fascination in bringing answers to health care professionals
Shreevidya Periyasamy found fascination in bringing answers to health care professionals.

Over a busy 18 months in Tufts University School of Medicine’s Health Informatics & Analytics program, Shreevidya Periyasamy has learned to effectively analyze health data to improve outcomes in clinical care and research. Even she has been surprised, at times, at how captivated she became by the field.

“Even things I didn’t think I would find interesting were interesting,” she said, including a statistics course and learning how to code in the programming language R.

Periyasamy now has a goal of one day creating her own business centered on a commercially available platform that builds custom data-storage and data-mining software for precision medicine research. Precision medicine refers to treatments that help patients based on a genetic understanding of a disease.

But in the meantime, Periyasamy has already landed a “dream job.” She started a clinical analyst role at Shields Health Solutions in October, well before she closed out her coursework and finished an internship.

The Health Informatics & Analytics program, which she started in Fall 2019 as part of the inaugural cohort, prepares students to use data to answer questions from health care institutions. For example, if a doctor’s office or hospital wants to track how well patients are responding to a certain diabetes treatment, it would turn to an analyst.

The analyst compiles that data in a way physicians and others who need it can understand it, explained Periyasamy, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. “We are responsible for transforming the messy data from the back-end of information systems into actionable insights,” she said. “We bridge that gap between people who are technical in clinical terms but not in software or data analysis.”

After going through the program, Periyasamy said she’s learned never to underestimate what she can do. When she started the program, she was intimidated by the thought of extensive R coding and working with geographic information system (GIS) software. Now she’ll take those skills with her from Tufts.

“If you asked me a year and a half ago, I would have said I don't think I could do those things. I’ve never been someone who did a lot of coding or worked with software. I can now say I know enough to be dangerous,” she said, adding, “I didn't think I would enjoy that part as much as I have.”

She said she has Ramya Palacholla, director of the Health Informatics & Analytics program, and Olaf Dammann, professor of public health and community medicine at the School of Medicine, to thank for this newfound expertise. “They have always been super-supportive of the program and flexible and making sure it’s whatever we want it to be for us and that we’re going after things that we think will be enriching,” she said.

Other support from family and friends over the last 18 months has been important. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would be finishing my program on time. They pushed me to say, ‘You got this.’ My fellow classmates were also a big support. Really, everyone, I met in the program has made it a phenomenal experience,” she said.

Periyasamy said she has emerged with a newfound appreciation for saying “yes” to new experiences. Go after challenges, take risks, she advises.

“Every opportunity you have that you think you might like, go for it. That’s the mindset I’ve developed now. You never know unless you try it,” she said. “See where it takes you. Time’s too short. You might be in for a pleasant surprise.”