Jamie Fairclough: Harnessing the Power of Data to Transform Medicine

December 1, 2023 By Jason Roth

Published in the Winter 2023 print edition of Roseman University’s spectRUm Magazine

In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare and medical education, data has become a linchpin, guiding decisions, shaping strategies, and unlocking new frontiers. Jamie Fairclough, PhD, MPH, MS, Roseman University College of Medicine’s Associate Dean for Research Assessment & Evaluation and Professor, is a visionary leader who has made data the centerpiece of her career. In an in-depth interview, we delve into her remarkable journey and her pivotal role in shaping the future of medicine through data-driven insights.

From Dissertation to Data Enthusiast

Dr. Fairclough’s entry into the world of data began when she was conducting secondary data analysis for her dissertation in a doctoral program in human sciences at Florida State University. Despite initial warnings from doctoral chairs about the challenges of working with secondary data, she embarked on the arduous task of analyzing a messy longitudinal dataset focused on HPV outcomes. The complexity of the dataset led her to explore additional statistical analyses to ensure data appropriateness. This experience marked her epiphany moment, sparking a deep passion for statistics and data analysis.

“I fell in love with stats,” Dr. Fairclough recalls. The experience compelled her to reflect on her educational journey as she completed her PhD in human sciences and to reconsider her path.

Throughout her career, Dr. Fairclough consistently found herself at the forefront of data-related initiatives, emphasizing the importance of accurate, timely, and comprehensive data. Her trajectory took her from an Assistant Dean position in a pharmacy school to a broader role in medicine, and she knew she needed additional training to fulfill her data-centric ambitions.

“I ended up going back and doing a lot of postgraduate work,” she said. Following an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University, Dr. Fairclough’s love of stats led her to pursue multiple postgraduate programs, including Data Science, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, and Cloud Computing at University of Texas at Austin; Medical Statistics at Stanford University; Healthcare AI at Harvard Medical School; and Data Engineering at University of Chicago. She was also selected as a Data & Policy Summer Scholar at University of Chicago.

Data as the Foundation of Medicine

At Roseman University College of Medicine, Dr. Fairclough shares the essential role data plays in the College’s mission. “The data tells our story,” she explains. “It serves as a guiding light, helping the College achieve its goals and objectives. The data can take various forms—quantitative, qualitative, or unstructured, such as images and audio. The goal is to gather data comprehensively from various systems and ensure it paints an accurate picture.”

One distinctive aspect of Dr. Fairclough’s role at Roseman is the early integration of data science. She notes that “bringing in a data scientist this early is the development of a medical school is very unusual, especially at a leadership level.” The institution’s forward-thinking approach involves considering data infrastructure from the outset, ensuring that data collection aligns with future analytical needs.

Addressing the challenge of disparate systems in medicine, Dr. Fairclough’s team actively investigates ways to integrate data from various platforms. They ask critical questions about data ownership, accessibility, and utility. By setting up data infrastructure from the beginning, Roseman University College of Medicine aims to harness data’s power effectively and efficiently.

Data for the Greater Good

Beyond her role at the College of Medicine, Dr. Fairclough is keen on helping the entire University. Her expertise in data science has facilitated collaborations with the Office of Institutional Research & Effectiveness to address student outcomes and challenges. These collaborations aim to pinpoint barriers to graduation and devise strategies to enhance student success.

Dr. Fairclough and her data science team, equipped with trained professionals in epidemiology, biostatistics, AI, engineering, and machine learning, hold tremendous potential to elevate Roseman’s capabilities. They are exploring ways to collaborate with other schools within the institution to leverage their expertise and contribute to the University’s broader mission.

Empowering Future Doctors with Data

For aspiring doctors, understanding data collection and analysis is paramount. As Dr. Fairclough explains, the data is the foundation upon which clinical decisions are made. Medical records, diagnostic tools, and AI-assisted systems all rely on data. Ensuring the accuracy of data is crucial to making precise clinical decisions that impact patient outcomes positively.

Dr. Fairclough sees AI as a powerful tool in the medical field, not as a replacement for physicians but as an invaluable assistant. “AI can sift through vast datasets with lightning speed, identifying critical cases and freeing up physicians to focus on complex problems. Furthermore, AI can enhance clinical decision-making by identifying subtle patterns that might be overlooked by human clinicians,” she explains.

Data-Driven Impact Beyond the Classroom

Dr. Fairclough’s work extends far beyond the classroom. She envisions the application of data science to evaluate and address community health disparities. By analyzing data on healthcare access, socioeconomic factors, and demographics, she believes we can identify vulnerable populations and design targeted interventions.

One project that exemplifies this vision is the evaluation of households served by GENESIS, the College of Medicine’s household-centered initiative to address the social determinants of health within vulnerable households in Las Vegas. By understanding the characteristics of these communities and their health needs, data-driven insights can be applied not only to Las Vegas but also to similar communities nationwide. Data has the power to generalize and infer solutions, potentially transforming healthcare on a grand scale.

Dr. Fairclough, with her unwavering commitment to data science, stands at the forefront of a revolution in medicine and education. Her journey from a curious doctoral student to a data enthusiast and a visionary leader exemplifies the transformative potential of data. As she continues to shape the future of medicine through data-driven insights, she reminds us that the power of data lies not only in numbers but in the profound impact it can have on people’s lives.