Why you should consider partnering with academia

May 15, 2019 / By Senthil Nachimuthu, MD, PhD

As a member of the Industry Advisory Board (IAB) of the University of Utah Department of Biomedical Informatics, I get the opportunity to participate in and shape the curriculum and career development opportunities for graduate students in the field of biomedical informatics. I am also an adjunct assistant professor in the same department, where I have been giving invited lectures and teaching lab sessions on standard terminologies and clinical decision support over the past several years. I would like to share my thoughts on how this is beneficial to students as well as our organization.

The IAB was founded with several objectives—aligning the curriculum with industry needs, providing internship opportunities to students, advancing collaboration with industry via sponsored research projects, providing educational opportunities for professionals in the industry, offering quarterly IABtalks presentations and so on. Having attended many of the IAB meetings where the charter was established, as well as several IABtalks where leaders from our organization and others presented about the innovative work they are doing, and seeing various student presentations, I can see the value of such a collaboration between industry and academia.

As an IAB member, I had the opportunity to meet the incoming class of graduate students last year and was able to share my thoughts as an alumnus of the program as well as a professional working in the industry. We have been able to hire many medical and nursing informatics students for internships and full-time opportunities, myself being one. In a field such as health care where the margin for error is low, the need for formal education cannot be overstated. A company such as ours benefits from the graduate education in health informatics that many students with prior backgrounds in health care or technology obtain from such a program. In addition, the students learn how a company operates through the internships to see if a career in the industry is right for them. An internship also allows both the employer and the intern to find out if they are a match for each other for long-term employment. The IAB allows us to develop the curriculum to train our future workforce so  we may equip our future professionals and leaders appropriately.

I have been able to interact with multiple students through lectures, lab sessions and offline communications. For one, it forces me to keep myself up-to-date on the topics I teach, which in turn benefits the R&D work I do at my day job. Second, the enthusiasm and curiosity of an intelligent group of graduate students is infectious, which alone gives me adequate reason to teach. Finally, I can find potential interns or future employees from these direct interactions with highly trained graduate students, which is evidenced by many graduate students our organization has hired.

So, do my organization and I benefit from my being an industry advisor and adjunct assistant professor? Do I think the students benefit from those of us in the industry? Would I do it again, given the time commitment it takes? The answer is an unequivocal “yes” to all three.

Senthil K. Nachimuthu, MD, PhD,  medical informaticist with 3M Health Information Systems’ Healthcare Data Dictionary (HDD) team.