A 50-year Commitment to Interprofessionalism
For fifty years, health informaticians at the University of Minnesota have epitomized interprofessionalism in research and education. When the University’s Academic Health Center was created in 1970 and a “team approach” to education, research, and practice was made a core tenet of its mission, the health computer science faculty (a precursor to the current health informatics faculty) was already fulfilling this mission. Indeed, one of the goals of the Biomedical Data Processing Unit (BDPU, the first institutional iteration of health informatics at the University) was “to contribute the accumulated knowledge and experience” of the unit’s staff “toward computer utilization in health care [sic] analysis, health care [sic] delivery, and health science research.” In the BDPU’s 1968 annual report, the unit’s director, Eugene Ackerman, PhD, highlighted some of the large data-handling projects his staff had collaborated on that past year. Included among them were the Minnesota Coronary Survey and the Red Lake Indian Study. In the Minnesota Coronary Survey Project, the BDPU’s informaticians worked with epidemiologists in the School of Public Health to track the relationship of cardiac risk factors to the incidence of coronary disease. Their work involved getting a weekly census of all the participating patients at seven of the state’s hospitals and printing meal labels for every patient indicating whether they would receive treatment or control diet. In the Red Lake Indian Study, the BDPU’s informaticians supported the work of physicians in laboratory medicine and pediatrics on a prospective study of streptococcal and staphylococcal infections in children living on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The informaticians were responsible for handling the data produced by the detailed laboratory bacteriology and urinalysis reports collected every two weeks for two years on several hundred children.
Sixteen years later, this commitment to interprofessionalism was still strong. In 1984, the Division of Health Computer Sciences (DHCS, the second institutional iteration of health informatics at the University) received its first National Library of Medicine Research Training in Medical Informatics grant (it would go on to receive continual NLM research training grant funding through 2009). The first group of NLM fellows included Judith Graves, PhD, RN whose research, under the supervision of nursing faculty member Sheila Corcoran, PhD, RN, included the use of computer support in clinical decision-making and the design and development of knowledge bases to support nursing clinical practice. Graves was a foundational leader in the field of nursing informatics (and went on to serve as the post-doctoral supervisor of Connie Delaney, PhD, RN, current Acting Director of the Institute for Health Informatics and Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing). Because of her work and others, Minnesota was one of the first institutions to be recognized for interdisciplinary training. In a recent interview, Milton Corn, MD, Deputy Director for Research and Education at the NLM reflected that Minnesota’s NLM training program “took more seriously, than any other program I can think of, early… interest in nursing informatics rather than the physician-centric point of view that predominated.”