How do you empower faculty, scientists, and nursing students across the U.S. to lead data-driven health system change in their courses, capstones, and careers? How do you introduce scientists to new ‘omics data and techniques to reveal underlying keys to disease and symptom management? How do you immerse students, nurses at the bedside, and nurse scientists in laboratories in hands-on digital learning so that tools and technologies become second-nature to them?
Emory Nursing’s Center for Data Science (CDS) is answering questions such as these, and bringing the power of data-driven thinking to bear on the greatest challenges in healthcare and scientific discovery today. Founded in 2015 by Dean Linda McCauley, with the hiring of renowned biostatistician Dr. Vicki Hertzberg, CDS was built to “to unlock the power of data to help solve nursing’s most urgent problems.”
Since then, the Center has grown into a global hub for nurse-led innovation. CDS knowledge, tools, and resources are helping to digitally enable nurses of every level in preparation for the 21st Century. Emory is training an expanding pipeline of nurse leaders in emerging areas like data science, AI, machine learning, and design thinking. And we are sharing the tools necessary for other nursing schools to implement informatics standards like those laid out in the 2021 AACN Essentials.
Each of the nurse leaders whose professional growth is accelerated by CDS goes on to solve problems, discover knowledge, and change lives. With a reach that crosses borders and disciplines, it can be difficult to quantify this impact. For Emory Nursing, the return on investment has been significant, with more than $26.5 million in external research grants right now supported by the Center (more than $56.1 million since 2016). And that’s to say nothing of the people, communities, nurses, and systems that have been impacted by CDS breakthroughs.
Unlocking Nursing’s Potential
Nurses have always led from the frontline, creating clever ways of thinking and doing in order to improve the care of patients and communities. Alcohol wipes, sanitary pads, the crash cart, ostomy bags, color-coded IV lines? The fundamental belief that hospitals should be clean and well ventilated? All invented by a nurse.
For centuries, nurses have forged innovative pathways—despite being hard pressed for time, resources, and institutional support. Emory Nursing has decided to change this narrative and see what happens when disruptive nurses are told ‘yes’ and given the tools they need to bring new ideas to life.
The Center for Data Science is the at the heart of this vision, providing:
- Immediate access to searchable, downloadable big data that are clean, organized and HIPPA compliant (through Project NeLL)
- The teaching and learning tools nurses need to effectively use data
- Scientific mentorship on how to analyze and apply ‘omics data, including metabolomics and microbiome datasets
- The means to create, patent, and learn from real-time biological and environmental sensors
- The professional support and industry connections necessary to develop products
In addition, CDS faculty and staff are playing a lead role in the development of the Innovation Hub, the Simulation Center, and the smart connected classrooms coming to the Emory Nursing Learning Center (ENLC). With 70,000 sq. ft of dynamic space in Downtown Decatur, the ENLC will soon link students and faculty with community, non-profit, and corporate partners who can help to propel innovative ideas.
CDS faculty are creating the infrastructure and standards necessary for nurses across the US to effectively use data in their research, practice, or leadership roles. The data strategies deployed by CDS teams are continuously evaluated and refined under the leadership of Dr. Roy Simpson, Assistant Dean for Technology Management.
Also among CDS faculty is Dr. Wonshik Chee, whose role is to help Emory nurses integrate technology into their research protocols. With 30 years of experience and two personal patents, Dr. Chee is guiding faculty in their formulation of research studies—and helping to translate those studies into scalable, nurse-owned enterprises.
Andrea Plotsky, MSPH, Director of Database Projects, is the architect of Project NeLL. NeLL is our school’s nationally available suite of apps for teaching, learning, and practicing nursing data science. Because NeLL was made to be easy and intuitive—no matter how much nurses already know about data science—most NeLL users operate independently. However, when complex or extremely large data sets are required, Plotsky consults with internal and external researchers to fulfill requests.
Simpson lectures extensively around the world and has published more than 500 articles on nursing informatics. He also sits on 12 editorial review boards, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, New York Academy of Medicine and the National Academies of Practice. He attained a doctorate in nursing practice, executive leadership/informatics, from American Sentinel University.
Dr. Chee holds doctoral and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering with digital signal processing as a minor from the University of California, Berkeley. During the PhD program at UC Berkeley, he developed algorithms to make an intelligent vehicle perform lane change maneuvers and implemented the algorithms to actual vehicles though real-time software.
Andrea Plotsky, MSPH serves as the Director of Database Projects for the Nell Hodgson School of Nursing at Emory University. Andi is lead database architect of Project NeLL, an online tool for research using electronic health record (eHR) data, and manages a team of programmers and students in the development of this product. She also has served as a Data Manager with the Emory-UGA Center of Excellence in Influenza Research, as well as having taught a "Database Development for Public Health" course in the Rollins School of Public Health – preaching the gospel of database standards.
Transforming the Future of Nursing Research
“NeLL addresses several academic and practice needs,” says Linda McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FRCN, dean of Emory School of Nursing. “For one, nurses are generating huge stores of data that hold the clues to factors associated with better outcomes in health. However, much of that data—which nurses spend inordinate hours charting and logging—goes overlooked and remains unused.”