A joint victory

Engineering and Medical students join forces to win national competition


A group of four University students recently made waves in the health care community, proposing new ways to revamp how hospitals use medical records. Boasting different talents and interests, the students came together this past summer to start a project that culminated in national recognition this past December.

The participants, fourth-year Engineering students Kevin McVey and Lauren Dobry and Medical students Sara James and Cam Coleman initially joined just to write a research paper, but ultimately decided to enter their work in a newly established competition sponsored by the American Medical Informatics Association.

The students worked to redesign progress notes in the neonatal intensive care unit of the University Medical Center. The students conducted more than 40 interviews with experts who use progress notes in different disciplines and used their suggestions to make the notes more streamlined and user-friendly.

“We actually went out and saw what other people wanted, not what we thought they wanted,” Dobry said.

After submitting an abstract and making it through numerous rounds of cuts, the team was announced as just one of four finalists and was sent to an AMIA conference in Washington, D.C to present their findings.

“It was a lot of fun for us to present at [a professional] level,” Coleman said.

The only team with undergraduate members, Coleman, McVey, Dobry and James won first place, beating a team of Harvard graduate students and a team with both Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt graduate students.

“It was fantastic to present [our project] and see actual medical professionals agree with our decisions,” McVey said. “We actually impressed someone that does this for a living. We are very proud to have set the bar for what future years will have to top.”

As an engineering student, McVey was in charge of constructing the computational methods to improve the progress notes system.

“I’m a computer science major, so what was really challenging was trying to truly make something that worked for non-engineers,” McVey said. “I really had to put other users’ needs first, which is something you don’t get a lot of experience with in the engineering school.”

Dobry, a biomedical engineering major, recorded all of the interviews, took notes and transcribed the interviews word for word in order to develop a coding system used to analyze responses. Now, Dobry plans to apply what she learned through the project to her capstone project.

“[The AMIA project] was the greatest culmination of everything I’ve worked for,” Dobry said.

As students with medical backgrounds, Coleman and James played a role in conducting all interviews before the team analyzed the results. Coleman delivered the team’s presentation to the judges and AMIA members, and after the presentation, all four of the students fielded questions from judges based on their areas of expertise.

“[My favorite part was] working with people in a different field,” Coleman said. “It was really rewarding to work on a team where a lot of people from different backgrounds threw their ideas on the table.”

The team considered their diversity a leading reason for their success in the competition.

“You can’t just pull from one discipline,” Dobry said. “You have to have a collaboration from all of them, and that’s speaking for medicine and where it’s going. The one advantage that we had is that we definitely pulled from all disciplines.”

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