Emily Pfaff Earns Ph.D. in Health Informatics

Emily PfaffEmily Pfaff, Administrative Director of Informatics & Data Management at NC TraCS, successfully passed her doctoral dissertation exam on September 21, 2020 and earned her Ph.D. in Health Informatics from the Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at UNC Chapel Hill. Pfaff’s dissertation examined the practicality and effectiveness of using clinical ontologies (like SNOMED CT and the Human Phenotype Ontology) and graph database technologies to identify patient cohorts in Electronic Health Records in an accurate, consistent, and sharable manner.

Pfaff was drawn to the Ph.D. program at CHIP after completing her master’s degree at UNC. “When I decided on a Ph.D. program, I jumped at the chance to continue working and learning as part of the Carolina informatics community (which is full of collegial, smart, and talented people!)”. During the dissertation research process, Pfaff enjoyed working with her advisor, Dr. Ashok Krishnamurthy, trading ideas back and forth and developing her research project through collaborative, meaningful discussion. Dr. Krishnamurthy is the Director of Biomedical Informatics Service at NC TraCS, a Research Professor of Computer Science at UNC, and the Deputy Director of RENCI.

“It has been a pleasure for me to work with Emily Pfaff towards the completion of her Ph.D. and her dissertation. Her work is remarkable, in that it tackles a very difficult problem, develops a solution, and lays out a path to generalize and broaden the solution. She is also one of the most remarkable persons I have known: her ability to do great individual work while leading a high-performance team and at the same time helping others is unparalleled. I look forward to her many accomplishments that are yet to come, and to continue working with her.”

Pfaff was inspired to study health informatics due to the important nature of healthcare and her interest in health data research.

“Health and healthcare is an area of study that affects literally everyone on earth—and discoveries in healthcare have the potential to change, improve, and save lives. Though actual patient care is far outside my expertise, applying my technical skills to health informatics is my small way to contribute to high impact, high priority research. Plus, health care data is just about the most interesting data you can work with—it’s not just numbers; it represents people, in all their complexity.”

Pfaff’s next goal is to obtain a faculty position and she is excited to write her first grant as a PI.

CHIP has been honored to assist Pfaff in her degree and has greatly enjoyed working with her and learning from her. We offer her every congratulations and look forward to her future accomplishments, which we are sure will make great advancements in the field of health informatics!