Growing up with a brother with autism spectrum disorder and an associated intellectual disability, Maria (Pura) Purificacion Ballester-Navarro is passionate about exploring research to help this population. She deeply enjoys analyzing data, finding patterns that contribute to a better understanding of the world, and doing research that will leave a better society for future generations. So for Pura, the health informatics track of the MS in Healthcare Policy and Research program was a perfect fit.
As a new graduate of the class of 2021, Pura highly recommends the program and puts a special emphasis on the practicality of the capstone course. Pura collaborated with another health informatics student to make clinical information about community members more understandable for Health & Hope Myanmar, an organization dedicated to bringing hope and development to the poorest people in western Myanmar. Together, they developed an electronic survey that gathers clinical data along with the GPS location of clinical visits. “It is a transversal course where we can put into practice what we have learned throughout the semesters,” she said.
Pura brings an international background to her research as a native of Alicante, Spain. “From my European perspective, the courses in which the features of the American health system were explained and analyzed were deeply informative and widened my viewpoints,” she said. She was especially excited to increase her programming skills and understanding of artificial intelligence in medicine, exposing her to new professional opportunities.
Given her international status, Pura feels connected to and thankful for Dr. Yiye Zhang, program director of the health informatics track. “She gave me the opportunity to be part of this program as an international student and helped me to succeed even before the start date, back in August 2020,” Pura said. “Since then, she has been available to respond to my queries and uncertainties.”
Pura has gained new research skills, like understanding the function, structure, and connections of theoretical frameworks she has used many times in clinical experiences. She also notes that the program allowed her to nurture and expand her professional connections and enhance her future career prospects.
Looking forward, Pura is interested in a career combining research and education. She is motivated to apply the artificial intelligence and natural language processing skills she learned in the program to research autism spectrum disorders and drug-drug interactions.