Meet the Masters: Shira Fischer, MD, PhD, MMSc '14

A series spotlighting Harvard Biomedical Informatics Alumni
Shira Hannah Fischer, MD, PhD, MMSc '14

Today we feature Shira Fischer, MD, PhD, MMSc, who graduated in 2014.

What did you do before attending Harvard Medical School?

After college, I spent a year abroad, and then worked at the Institute of Medicine, which is now the National Academy of Medicine, in Washington DC. That experience emphasized the importance of policy which I carried with me through medical school. I studied medicine (MD) and PhD with the Department of Clinical and Population Health Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, but I was always interested in health information technology. My experience in medical training drove home the importance of improving not just our knowledge of medicine, but also the systems we use to deliver care. The tools of information technology and policy are the ones that have the most power to do so.

What are you doing now?

I’m a physician researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank based in Santa Monica, CA. The growing Boston office, where I work, is focused on health policy. A major focus of RAND's work is impact; we constantly ask why we're doing what we're doing and how it makes a difference. I love the diversity of the work I do and the fact that it means I always have to learn new things. I also love the collaborative approach, which is partly due to the interdisciplinary nature of the work but is also ingrained in the organizational culture.

How is the degree in Biomedical Informatics helping you?

The breadth of experience made me familiar with terminology and approaches from many disciplines, from machine learning to genomics and from databases to design. There's always more to learn, but it gave me a picture of what areas there are to learn about. I also met an amazing network of people to whom I can turn when I start new projects or want to pursue an idea.

Why did you choose this program?

The program has many strengths, including location, faculty, and particularly opportunities for collaboration. The truth is, I didn't look at any other programs—this was where I wanted to be.

What do you think makes this program unique?

The diversity of institutions involved in the varied backgrounds of both the faculty and students makes it a rich place for building, learning, and collaboration.

What was your most memorable experience while in the program?

I particularly enjoyed a data science class in Python at the college. it had been a while since I had taken a programming class or any class with undergraduates. It was fun and challenging, but also frustrating in ways I should have been able to predict. I also really enjoyed our fellowship seminars and the variety of guest speakers we had. I’ll add that my second daughter was born during the program. That was very memorable!

Edited by Sydney Narvaez and Nishtha