Alumna Profile: Laura Duncan, MHI ‘19
Laura Duncan, MHI '19 recently spoke about her experience with Chatham University's Healthcare Informatics program—and her insight into how it's impacted her work as a Senior Administrator for the Department of Medicine at UPMC.
“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool healthcare administrator,” says Laura Duncan, MHI ’19. “I grew up with my father on the board of our local community hospital.”
That was Barnert Hospital—a full-service facility offering perinatal care and family care services to the predominately Black and Latinx population in the Eastside of Paterson, New Jersey. In 2008, after changes in state law funneled Medicaid payments to wealthier, whiter hospitals, Barnert closed their doors due to a lack of funds. Duncan was an intern in the Health Information department at the time.
“I became very interested in healthcare administration and policy management. I knew I wanted to go into the field.”
After earning her bachelors and a Masters of Healthcare Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, Duncan spent years building information systems and implementing electronic health records in a number of different work environments—which all, unfortunately, seemed to have one thing in common.
“Informatics, information systems, and data management were just nonexistent,” she says. “I could see why there were problems.”
Her quest for answers led her to Chatham’s Healthcare Informatics program, which she attended while working full-time for UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.
Duncan says that she really enjoyed the program. “I loved it. I enjoyed interacting with the professors [and] other students from different backgrounds.” Class conversation “helped encapsulate and give flesh” to the ideas they learned, and the assigned curriculum was immediately applicable to Duncan’s job.
“I would literally take the textbook or the readings and then go back to work and say, okay—here’s the concept, how can I make sure the concept is in the proposal for our requests for applications? When we were putting together what we needed and giving that to UPMC’s Information Services Division team, how did I make sure I was very clear in the way in which our information would be gathered, used, and then disseminated? [Chatham’s MHI] program helped me have the language to be even more precise.”
Today, Duncan is a Senior Administrator for the Department of Medicine at UPMC, where she collects, coalesces, and communicates complicated data to a variety of audiences. Exactly how to communicate that data is just one way that she uses her informatics degree daily; there’s also “the elements of technical skill,” she says.
“So, how do you build an information system? How do you build a taxonomy? How do you answer a request from a customer? How do you make sure you structure and understand the needs of the client? That’s the kind of stuff that we learned about [in the MHI program]. We troubleshooted problems together for the capstone courses, we talked about that during our discussion forums. We just got to think through it in a space that allowed us to get tested by other people who had the experiences or the expertise. I was able to go into a space and play, and then come out a lot stronger with the way that I was approaching my work.”