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New Health Care Information Technology Capstone Course Introduced by Ph.D. Student Hajar Shirley
A former Global IT Director at Johnson & Johnson, Hajar Shirley brings the new capstone in IT & Informatics to life for students.
New Health Care Information Technology Capstone Course Introduced by Ph.D. Student Hajar Shirley

As a former Global IT Director at Johnson & Johnson, SC&I doctoral student Hajar Shirley deeply understands the complexities involved in trying to determine how to best develop and apply the rapidly-evolving technologies in the healthcare and medical industry. 

Some of the challenges she faced while working at J&J include determining how to use technology to improve the lives of people with diseases such as diabetes and other chronic conditions, and how to use technology to better connect patients with providers. 

Another challenge is to determine how medical students can apply the skills they learn during lectures immediately instead of waiting until clinical classes. 

After months of experimenting with different concepts and possibilities, Shirley, who graduated from Rutgers in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, decided to develop a new section of the Capstone in IT and Informatics which focused on healthcare innovation and technology for Information Technology and Informatics Major at SC&I. 

Through this new course, which she launched in the fall of 2019, Shirley explores these issues with students and works with them as they develop new technologies to introduce at the IT Showcases, held every semester, during which they compete in the Prototype and Pitch Competition. This spring, Shirley is teaching the second part of the course. 

Beginning on the first day of class, students are given the opportunity to begin solving problems they will work on throughout the semester. Students conduct visits to J&J to learn skill sets in design thinking and agile methodology to immediately apply to problem solving experience. They also visit Robert Wood Johnson Medical School numerous times to gather research by interviewing doctors and nurses. They even collaborate with current medical students who are under the instruction of Anthony M. Tobia, M.D., an instructor and psychiatrist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. 

This course enables students to connect their passion with the opportunity to identify problems and delivering impactful technological solutions to some of the most challenging issues healthcare providers face. 

Grant Thompson, a student who took the Capstone last semester and is taking part two this semester, is currently working on an app that enables medical students to virtually apply the skills they learn in lecture with real patients during their first two years in medical school. 

“I highly recommend this course to anyone,” Thomson said, “There’s a lot of freedom, prepares you for real life scenarios, and it feels like you’re actually working in the field.” 

At Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, SC&I students learn that there are various gaps in the medical field in terms of the industry and in education. Dr. Tobia believes that information technology can help fill that void. 

Through this partnership, Dr. Tobia said, “We don’t just solve Robert Wood Johnson problems, we solve problems on a national level.” 

“Another student in the class is developing software that will interface with electronic medical records of the psychiatrist, specifically the part of the med record called the medical Review of Systems (ROS),” Dr. Tobia said. “The technology will cross-reference ROS signs the patient endorses with the reason they’re seeing the psychiatrist (called the ‘chief complaint’). The software then prints out a list of medical conditions that may be masquerading as the patient’s chief complaint (e.g. anxiety). Such technology will help ensure critical medical conditions (e.g. a life-threatening arrhythmia) are not misdiagnosed as mental illnesses (e.g. anxiety disorder) by the psychiatrist. 

Not only does this course inspire students, but the students in the course inspire Shirley. She said she learned while working at J&J that there is opportunity to improve the healthcare experience and address uncertainty for patients, and through the work she does with her students she feels they are making an impact. 

“Working in a field that harnesses the power of technology and innovation to improve the lives of the people we serve - while teaching students through those experiences is truly an organic experience,” said Shirley. “The magic is connecting students with partners who are designing solutions or trying to solve real world health challenges.” 

More information about the Information Technology and Informatics major is available on the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I) website

Photo: Courtesy of Hajar Shirley


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