DHA graduate recognizes global influences in healthcare IT

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Conventional wisdom holds that once a student graduates, the worst is over. No more long nights studying. No more Socratic or didactic learning. Spending inordinate amounts of time on research papers just for course credit is now a thing of the past. Adrienne Hunter, DHA, MS, the first graduate of the Doctor of Health Administration - Information Systems program at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), continues to take on similar challenges—not for herself, but for those who follow.

“For those pursuing goals in the health arena,” Hunter relayed to current and future students, “it is important to realize that the one team or hospital patient or population you impact ultimately impacts the world.”

Recognizing cultural shifts and disruption of industries is a gift only a few possess. These changes upend the norm leaving in their wake transformational processes, especially in healthcare where there is a renewed focus on patient empowerment and engagement.

Hunter realized early on that a revolution in healthcare information technology was imminent and positioned herself to ride this wave. She completed a Master of Science in Informatics at the University of Iowa after completing her undergraduate work in Computer Science at Spelman College, and has now fulfilled requirements for a Doctor of Health Administration with an emphasis in Information Systems.

“My interests in the health arena ironically stemmed from the new-age shift in technology use that skyrocketed in the new millennium,” said Hunter. “Upon being welcomed by Y2K, the advancements of software applications and engineering fundamentals for healthcare become evident.”

The ebb and flow of innovation attibuted to people, not companies, in healthcare technology are not just limited to small, singular players like Vivek Murthy, MD, MBATodd Park, and now Adrienne Hunter, DHA. Giants like Microsoft and Google have tried their hand at streamlining patient information through use of personal health records but have yet to make a universal impression on the industry. Hunter mentioned that health and healthcare are, at times, mutually exclusive and that trade associations and the large companies they represent have more emphasis on bottom lines, less on overall patient health.

“It wasn’t until I attended the International Health Rights Exchange in Cape Town, South Africa that I truly understood how health and healthcare are not one in the same,” remarked Hunter. “I researched the social implications impacting women with HIV/AIDS and came back only to want to merge my interests in health and technology, which is why I pursued the field of health informatics.”

Hunter has done extensive global health work compared to many of her contemporaries. While working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she worked in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she conducted informatics assessments for disease surveillance and electronic health records customizations.

Hunter also assessed informatics capacity at 14 different burn centers in four cities in India. A prototype for a national burn registry using mobile communications was proposed, developed and data were presented at the prestigious National Academy of Burns Conference in New Delhi, India. She has also traveled with her husband to volunteer and conduct healthcare research in Morocco, China, Guatemala, and South Africa. “I have been blessed to have the opportunity to impact the world through my work at the CDC,” said Hunter.

Not only has Hunter’s impact been felt abroad, she has been an inspiration for colleagues at MUSC—so much that she was nominated for the MUSC DHA Outstanding Student Award. “She’s a remarkable young woman—I have no doubt that Adrienne will go far in her career,” Karen Wager, MHS, DBA, Professor and Associate Dean for Students Affairs in the College of Health Professions, said of Hunter.  Hunter modestly considers herself to be “artistic, considerate and fluid”, but her classmates are more forthcoming in their descriptions, even without having met her.

Fellow classmate and friend, Courtney Schoessow recounted a period in her doctoral program where life’s challenges became overwhelming and burdensome. “Just at the point when I thought I couldn’t continue my doctoral studies, I received an email from Adrienne Hunter,” said Schoessow. “Adrienne provided encouragement, support and friendship throughout our program to myself and other students.”

Hunter will continue to effect change in global communities, whether she is teaching or developing bioinformatics strategies for large global systems. Her ability to connect with her immediate environment and the passion borne from her work with marginalized populations, classmates and up-and-coming students has made her a recognizable presence at MUSC.  It’s important for the best among these groups to “find your place, your interests, where you can contribute and go towards it full-force, remembering your purpose,” said Hunter. Although she has spent little time on campus, Hunter’s impact is felt strongly among students and administration.

“Working with Dr. Hunter was a real pleasure, in part because we shared a common interest – using technology to effectively deliver vital education that has the potential to improve health,” said Dusti Annan-Coultas, EdD, Director of Educational Technology in the College of Health Professions at MUSC. “Adrienne has been a thoughtful, conscientious student, dedicated to self-improvement and improving the lives of others. She, and others like her, is the reason it is so meaningful to work in higher education and at MUSC.

See this article published in The Catalyst here.