Graduate Program in Biomedical Informatics
Brochure (pdf file) Executive Summary (pdf file)
Trends in Biomedical Informatics Research and Education
A Classification of Biomedical Informatics Education
The following figure depicts a classification of biomedical informatics
training according to graduate/undergraduate nature, granting of formal
graduate degrees (M.S./PhD or equivalent), training program academic
independence, length of studies and required coursework.
Figure 2. Classification of Biomedical Informatics
Analysis of Graduate Training in Biomedical Informatics
Using Figure 2, we discuss briefly the international experience in
biomedical informatics training. We note that undergraduate training
(an important subject in itself), is included in the figure only for
completeness and is not classified or discussed further. In addition,
it is important to note that the categories in the classification hierarchy
of Figure 2 are not mutually exclusive, in that most centers offer more
than one educational option to interested trainees. For example at Pittsburgh,
trainees can receive short courses, non-degree fellowships, formal medical
informatics degree training, as well as formal degree training in a
Training programs that include non-Degree-granting components (#3
This category includes:
(a) Training programs so early in their development that they cannot
offer formal degrees (e.g., the Aalborg program).
(b) Short courses for professionals or academics in other informatics-related
disciplines (e.g., the National Library of Medicine's Woods Hole
Short Course; Stanford's Short Course in Medical Informatics, Pittsburgh's
Short Course, Oregon Health Sciences University's short course via the web.
(c) NLM-sponsored Research Fellowships at specified NLM-sponsored
academic training sites. These are offered as a sequel to clinical
specialty training for physicians (as degree or non-degree programs),
or as stand-alone post-graduate training programs for individuals with
professional degrees (e.g., R.N., M.L.S., M.D, D.D.S., M.P.H., or Ph.D.)
in either in one of the Health Sciences or the natural or Engineering
Sciences (again, as either degree or non-degree programs). NLM also
supports combined M.D./PhD candidates as "degree candidates".
(d) NLM-sponsored Individual Fellowships in Applied Informatics.
These individualized, NLM-funded courses of study can occur at any approved
applicant institution (not just NLM-funded training program sites) and
may involve degree programs or not, and either pre-doctoral or post-doctoral
trainees. They are intended to prepare more senior health care administrators
and clinicians to use informatics, either in continuing their previous
administrative or clinical work, or as a mechanism of starting a new
career as full-time informatics researchers.
Non degree-granting programs typically last from 1 to 4 years. In some
programs (e.g., at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, IN) trainees
are required to take courses and participate normally in assignments,
projects, and evaluation procedures.
Degree-granting training programs "within another program" (#1):
This category includes degree-granting programs where there is no autonomous
Biomedical Informatics degree program, per se, so that graduate degrees
are awarded through specialized tracks within collaborating, informatics-related
degree programs on campus (such as computer science or biomedical engineering).
An example would be the University of Pittsburgh's Biomedical Informatics
training program, which in addition to a non-degree track, has allowed
trainees to obtain degrees through the University's Intelligent Systems
Studies Program, and through its Library and Information Science degree
program. We do not include in this category the degree programs where
Biomedical Informatics trainees pursue "pure" or "traditional" formal
degrees in related disciplines, without specialized biomedical informatics
courses or tracks.
Degree-granting training programs in Medical Informatics (#2):
These represent Biomedical Informatics units that directly grant degrees
in the field. Below we provide a summary of all NIH/National Library
of Medicine-funded U.S. Biomedical Informatics training programs, as
well as some of the most important international training programs.
Examples (in no particular order) are the programs at Stanford University,
the University of Utah, the University of Pittsburgh, the University
of Minnesota, The Joint Harvard/MIT/Tufts Program, and the program at
Columbia University. A comparison of various degree-granting programs
reveals considerable variance in the breadth of materials taught. Programs
exhibiting greater breadth offer training in two stages. The first stage
involves formal coursework and teaching regarding all major sub-fields
of biomedical informatics. The second stage is devoted to research,
leading to in depth knowledge through discovery, electives, guided readings,
special examinations, etc.. Examples of this model are the Stanford
and Pittsburgh programs. Other programs emphasize focused training over
greater breadth. Such programs typically offer degree training in three
stages: first, theory courses covering a limited set of topics (e.g.,
clinical informatics, but not bioinformatics); second, specialized theoretical
training in 3 to 6 sub-fields; and finally, stage three is research
in one of the stage two sub-fields. Examples of such degree programs
are the Utah, Heidelberg, and Paris programs. We also note that in Europe,
Biomedical Informatics overlaps significantly with Biomedical Engineering,
whereas in the U.S. these fields are considered separate (the former
tending to concentrate on biomedical devices and device-related software,
and the latter on the general structure and utilization of biomedical
Because Biomedical Informatics emerged as a discipline only during
the latter half of the twentieth century, many current leaders in biomedical
informatics did not receive formal degree training in biomedical informatics
per se. However, we believe that trainees of today are, in general,
better served by programs that give them (a) systematic training in
methodological, technical, and organizational issues related to this
field, (b) exposure to high-quality research, (c) self-learning skills,
and (d) the "brand name" recognition that accompanies significant research
being accomplished at a well-respected program. We further believe that
training must be tailored to the individual trainee's background and
goals. That is why we believe that certain highly-qualified individuals
with strong technical backgrounds (e.g., an M.D. with a Masters' Degree
in Computer Science, or an RN with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering)
may benefit from a "post-doctoral", non-degree, research training experience.
However, a significant number (possibly even the majority) of applicants
for training in Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt will best be served
by the proposed rigorous degree program, since those applicants will
not otherwise obtain a high proportion of the requisite skills to succeed
in the field.
History of Biomedical Informatics-related Degree Offerings
There is a long history of collaboration among professionals
in Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and the fledgling field
of Biomedical Informatics. Some of the earliest pioneering work in biomedical
informatics, was the product of collaborations that began in the 1960s
between computer scientists at MIT (Anthony Gorry, Peter Szolovits)
and faculty at Harvard Medical School (G. Octo Barnett) and Tufts-New
England Medical Center (William Schwartz and Stephen Pauker). This pattern
has held for many current Vanderbilt Biomedical Informatics faculty.
Dr. William W. Stead, Director of the Informatics Center at VUMC, and
Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at VUMC, did his early
informatics training at Duke University under the tutelage of, and later
through collaboration with, W. Edward Hammond, PhD (a Biomedical Engineer
and founding Board Member of the American Medical Informatics Association).
Dario Giuse, DrIng, Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, came
to Vanderbilt from a faculty position in the Robotics Institute in the
School of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University. Edward S.
Shultz, MD, MS combined his training in Pathology with a Masters degree
in Biophysics at the University of Minnesota.
At Vanderbilt, for at least two decades, the School of
Engineering, primarily through the Department of Biomedical Engineering
(BME), and the Department of Computer Science (now Electrical Engineering
and Computer Science), have offered 'tracks' in medical informatics
to students in their Masters and PhD degree programs. A number of students
have taken advantage of such opportunities over the years. In addition,
there is a long history of collaborative research between faculty in
BME and faculty in the School of Medicine and School of Nursing. As
a DBMI Fellow, Steven H. Brown, M.D., M.S., completed his Masters Degree
in Biomedical Engineering (Informatics track) in the mid-1990s, before
joining the faculty of DBMI.
When the current Department of Biomedical Informatics
(DBMI) core faculty arrived at Vanderbilt in 1994, the first courses
they taught in Biomedical Informatics were offered as "Special Topics"
courses in the graduate school through Biomedical Engineering, an arrangement
facilitated by Thomas Harris, Chairman of BME. Collaboration between
BME and the DBMI has continued since that time. A number of the BME
graduate students who took the early DBMI informatics courses have pursued
PhD thesis work in the area - including Edward E. Westberg, Russ Waitman,
and Patrick Norris. A similar track record of student involvement in
Biomedical Informatics-related thesis work has occurred in Computer
Science. Dr. Dario Giuse has served on the dissertation committees of
a number of Vanderbilt Computer Science graduate students.It is anticipated
that the proposed degree program will leverage the strengths of BME,
EECS, and DBMI (as well as other "basic science" and clinical departments
at Vanderbilt) to benefit students in all areas. Several of the graduate
courses offered by BME are relevant to graduate students enrolled in
the Masters or PhD Biomedical Informatics programs. A number of the
courses offered by EECS are also relevant (details of specific courses
are provided later in this proposal). Core and elective courses offered
by DBMI faculty for the proposed new degree program will also be of
potential value to BME and EECS graduate students according to discussions
with BME and EECS representatives.
To place the present program in the above context, we now offer an autonomous, specialized, M.S. and Ph.D. - granting program in Biomedical Informatics that emphasizes strong theory, advanced research, strong clinical and/or bioinformatics integration, flexibility, and academic rigor. Vanderbilt, through the Department of Biomedical Informatics, will also continue to offer postdoctoral research traineeships to appropriately qualified individuals, who will not be required to complete additional formal degree programs (although they may take a number of courses).
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