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Art History to Health Informatics: Dr Olivia's Story



I suppose I took the road less travelled to become a doctor, or at least a longer road than usual. My parents are both scientists so as a resistant teenager I naturally set out to study something completely different, starting with art history at the University of Washington. But gradually my genetics pulled me back in the direction of my roots, and I graduated with a B.Sc. in Psychology and a hope to pursue an academic career in neuroscience.

After university, I worked in research, where I realized I loved immunology (just like my parents- insert eye roll) and that I wanted to study anatomy and physiology as a whole rather than focusing entirely on the brain. This was when, five years later, I went to medical school. As a med student, I was besotted by psychiatry, but also did extra work in gastroenterology and infectious disease, and a thesis project using bioinformatics to characterize the protective and harmful effects of the gut microbiome in patients undergoing stem cell transplantation. My interest in the brain, immunology, the gut and informatics solidified, and I became aware how much these apparently disparate fields actually overlapped.

I hail from an international background and was delighted to start clinical foundation training in London after being educated in both the United States and Italy. But the joy and enthusiasm waned as a junior doctor rotating through certain speciality fields that did not interest me and managing busy on-call shifts that scared me. Those years were valuable in making me a more rounded doctor, but they came at a price. I was anxious, stressed, and frustrated by inefficiencies in myself and in the system, often feeling like I wasn’t making a difference for anyone. A tiny cog in a mighty, immovable machine. I wanted to try something different.

At the end of my foundation training, I applied for a fellowship with Babylon Health. I went through a rigorous interview process focused on thinking innovatively, working quickly, and keeping the patient at the forefront. The interview was dynamic and exciting, challenging but not stressful. I was offered the role and assigned to a team of mostly engineers to help govern the safety of building a new comprehensive health record system. This meant adding structure to the complicated and often messy manner in which health information is stored and communicated. Poor interoperability in health care systems is still an ongoing problem that can compromise patient safety and hamper both the patient and clinician experience.

I realized quickly that Babylon does much more than what meets the public eye. On my team, we set out “behind the scenes” to build a really smart health record system, one that uses technology to improve safety, enhance efficiency and ensure even greater control on the privacy of our patient’s information. Our aim is to empower patients with easy access to their own, complete medical record and to leverage the same technology to ensure doctors have organized and reliable access to their patient’s information so that patients don’t have to repeat their whole history every time they meet a new clinician. I have learned from my colleagues- the other doctors, data scientists, informaticians, managers, and engineers about the challenges behind health care data, and together we pool our skills to find clever solutions. Having the resources to turn ideas into reality at a fast pace has been a rewarding ride often leaving me feeling I could touch the lives of even more patients while working behind the frontline.

My ideals as a doctor align with Babylon’s mission to make healthcare accessible to every person on earth. I have learned here the power of a common vision and the strategic use of technology toward progressing on the most ambitious of goals. Artificial Intelligence and technology can transform the provision of healthcare, but it’s important to continue to work together with clinicians who can provide a physical hand to hold and to help solve those problems that require a doctor and patient to be face to face. When the world was hit by the pandemic, I became fascinated by the immunology of COVID-19, and struck by the burden that the complex psychological stresses of this year could have on the mental health of our global population. The calling back to patient care inspired me to apply for psychiatry speciality training in London.

I am delighted for my new role as a psychiatry trainee at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, a place not only engaged in patient care but also an international centre of excellence for research including the emerging field of immunopsychiatry, as well as healthcare informatics. While my time has come to return to the front line, for me, working in healthcare will always comprise an interest in what I can do for an individual as well as what I can do to help solve large scale problems with solutions that will eventually put accessible healthcare in the hands of every person on earth.