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Alumni Spotlight: Tim Carney

Dr. Timothy Carney (Ph.D, Health Informatics, 2012) is the Associate Director for the Office of Informatics and Information Resource Management (OIIRM) for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). He is responsible for the strategic direction of technology in the center and for oversight, operations, development, and security of information systems that support programs and grantees. Tim was kind enough to share his remembrances of his early work with the CDC, how his experience there lead him to the Health Informatics Program at SoIC, the current exciting work he does for the CDC, and the future he envisions for the field of Health Informatics.

“I first entered the field of Public Health Informatics as a Public Health Informatics (PHI) Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Carney remembers. “I entered the program as part of the third official cohort of myself and five other outstanding scholars in 1998 and graduated in 2000. After graduation I was hired on to work within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at the CDC for seven years as an informatics specialist. I focused on supporting NCCDPHP advance its efforts in the area of informatics through understanding complex informatics and health IT related topics impacting on chronic disease information systems and surveillance activities. I had a great fortune of working on projects related to cancer surveillance, health disparities information systems data warehouse for better management of state and local grantee projects, HIPAA, data sharing across NCCDPHP programs, health IT architecture, and health informatics strategic planning efforts.”

This early experience at the CDC inspired Carney to seek out a new career path in the field of Informatics. “Once I decided I wanted to pursue doctoral studies in informatics in support of developing a more complete informatics portfolio of training and experience to open up career avenues in teaching, research, program management, and leadership, the choices for PhD programs in informatics were limited to only a few outstanding programs. I narrowed my search down to three great programs and then following a one-on-one conversation with the then Director of the Informatics Program at IUPUI, Dr. Anna McDaniel, I was assured that everything I wanted to do was in alignment with their program objectives and could achieved through their program. She answered all of my questions, was extremely flexible in making the program fit my continued demands at the CDC related to ongoing projects, and fought hard to get me selected as the first Indiana University-Anthem Indiana Health Information Exchange Pre-Doctoral Fellow. The combination of academic rigor, informatics research opportunities, and maturity of the program made it stand out from every other program I had explored. I had tremendous support along the way. I enjoyed mentors at every step in my career that challenged me, counseled me, and guided me to be my best. Dr. Anna McDaniel, Dr. Josette Jones, and Dr. David Haggstrom are just a few instrumental in helping me to carve out a program of study and research that proved impactful.”

Carney continued his work on projects at the CDC during the first year of his studies at IUPUI, and following his graduation was asked the rejoin the center where he first entered the field of Public Health Informatics. “I now serve in the chair once held by one of the strongest supporters of my informatics career at CDC named Jeanne Gilliland. Jeanne was the first director of CDC/NCCDPHP/OIIRM and recruited me to her center once I graduated. She also helped make my transition from CDC to IUPUI extremely efficient.” Carney now leads this center as Associate Director for OIIRM. “I am building on (Gilliland’s) legacy of supporting NCCDPHP and each of its eight Divisions in all areas of informatics, information technology, and surveillance. We support the CDC’s current efforts in advancing Data Science, Informatics, and Information Technology through its current agency-wide Data and IT Modernization efforts. Our OIIRM team’s role is to ensure that the center is best able to leverage this technology in support of program goals and objectives both for internal NCCDPHP operations and all of its external programs of engagement across all states and territories. The CDC as an agency and NCCDPHP as a center represent some of the most elite scientists and public health professionals. My job, and that of the great team within OIIRM is to simply provide them with the best informatics support possible to assist in their efforts to improve chronic disease outcomes for all.”

Carney believes informatics will be an essential force in helping to shape the world of the future. “I am really excited around the explosion of the consciousness of the everyday appreciation for terms like A.I., machine learning, and complex systems. We are entering a time in which the use of these concepts, and the corresponding changes in education can transform the youth of today into a workforce of tomorrow that has tremendous potential to solve problems we have struggled with for decades. Their appreciation for how technology can transform lives is heightened and the means to transform both healthcare delivery and public health practice, coupled with the growing number of informed and engaged youth demanding change the way in which we govern all sectors of our society and care for our planet brings with an air of transformational leadership that has the potential to do phenomenal things. Fields of study like informatics (by any name such as Data Science or whatever the terms of the day are) can help provide them with avenues to help bridge science, technology, and purpose.”

To the students who will help shape that future, Carney has the following advice. “Find your path and walk it with integrity. Failure is part of the process…find ways to leverage advanced knowledge in a discipline like informatics to showcase how you can be a change agent for transforming healthcare delivery and public health practice into what you want it to be in 2050 and beyond. That will mean finding creative ways to wear many hats at times that includes, informatics scientist, computer engineer, social and organizational behavior specialist, change management consultant, program and policy analyst, health services researcher, and community leader. Informatics is by its very nature multi-disciplinary and the problems we typically solve are complex enough to warrant such a perspective. Work in your labs, build your algorithms, publish your findings, design your code, and cement your position as a leader in your field, then find innovative and creative ways to implement that change over time.”