Jessica Ancker, PhD, MPH, FACMI, Professor and Vice Chair for Educational Affairs

Welcome to VUMC DBMI!

Hi everyone, 
We are delighted to welcome our incoming class of predoctoral, postdoctoral, and professional trainees from around the world. This fall, we are welcoming:
  • 2 PhD students
  • 1 degree-seeking and 1 non-degree postdoctoral trainee
  • 1 Fulbright fellow earning an MS
  • 2 MSTP students
  • 2 genomic medicine fellows
  • And 6 MSACI students (including 1 clinical informatics fellow) 
As always, our incoming students bring a new energy to the department, and we are looking forward to meeting them in classes and engaging in new research projects.

Masking Protocols & Remote Update

At the same time, however, trends in the coronavirus epidemic are obviously very concerning. DBMI’s MS/PhD program currently plans to hold in-person masked classes this fall for our smaller sized courses where distancing is possible. We plan to offer accommodations so that students or faculty who need periods of self-isolation can participate remotely. However, our larger educational activities (the Journal Club, the Research Colloquium, and the DBMI Research Seminar) will be remote for the fall semester. In addition, we have postponed a planned Clinical Observation course under the direction of Dr. Sharidan Parr until the spring semester.
The Masters of Applied Clinical Informatics (MSACI) program, which in typical years holds in-person sessions, will remain completely remote this year. Vanderbilt and DBMI coronavirus policies are both being continually updated in light of local and statewide trends. We will continue to keep trainees and faculty informed as soon as possible.

Other News & Initiatives:

  1. REU Renewal – Dr. Kim Unertl and Dr. Brad Malin won a renewal of the NSF-supported Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which supports students to participate in the Vanderbilt Summer Biomedical Informatics Summer Program. The REU funding continues to ensure that we can recruit highly qualified students to get exposure to informatics research and diversify our training pipeline to graduate study.
  2. Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training – To update our RCR training and make it more relevant to our students, we are allocating at least 6 of our weekly Research Colloquia to these issues. Please let us know if you have suggestions for speakers on one or more of the 9 core domains identified by the Office of Research Integrity: (1) conflict of interest; (2) policies about human subjects; (3) mentor/mentee responsibilities and relationships; (4) collaborative research including collaborations with industry; (5) peer review; (6) data acquisition, management, sharing and ownership; (7) research misconduct; (8) responsible authorship and publication; (9) the scientist as a responsible member of society, contemporary ethical issues in biomedical research, and the environmental and societal impacts of scientific research. Incoming students will complete their RCR requirement by attending at least 5 of these colloquia, completing the national CITI course in RCR, and completing a self-tracking sheet of their RCR activities.
  3. Postdoc Activities – We are committed to ensuring DBMI postdocs have the resources and support they need to succeed and thrive. See the separate article on new postdoc initiatives.
  4. Course Succession – With the departure of Dr. Kevin Johnson and the imminent retirement of Dr. Stuart Weinberg, Dr. Jessica Ancker is becoming course director for BMIF6300 Foundations of Biomedical Informatics.

Research & Educational Opportunities

At Vanderbilt, we have exciting research and educational opportunities in all the core domains of biomedical informatics, which include: Biomedical Data Science, Clinical Informatics, Translational Bioinformatics, Clinical Research Informatics, Consumer Health Informatics, People and Organizational Informatics, and Public Health Informatics. To learn more about faculty and courses in these domains, visit our DBMI Education site here!

If you have questions about any of Vanderbilt's educational programs in biomedical informatics, contact Rischelle Jenkins, Program Manager, at
Thank you and welcome! In the meantime, watch this DBMI Education video below! — Jessica

Table of Contents

  1. Fun Facts about DBMI 
  2. Important VU News & Announcements
  3. A Message from Kim Unertl on GRE Requirement
  4. MS/PhD Section
  5. Postdoc Section
  6. MSACI Section
  7. DBMI Contacts & Resources 
  8. Upcoming Events

Fun Facts about DBMI

The Department of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is one of the largest biomedical informatics centers in the country. With more than 115 faculty members and a renowned reputation for reseach and education, VUMC DBMI stands out. Below are some fun facts about the department!

The DBMI was initially conceived by Bill Stead, MD, FACMI, FIAHSI, McKesson Foundation Professor in DBMI, then developed into a nationally recognized department by Randy Miller, MD, FACMI, Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Emeritus, of DBMI, and expanded further by Dan Masys, MD, FACMI

Our current Chair, Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, FAAP, FAMIA, FACMI, FIAHSI, stepped into his position as DBMI's third Chair in July 2011. He has since made a tremendous impact in DBMI, and he was responsible for expanding many education initiatives within DBMI (ex: the Masters in Applied Clinical Informatics degree and training for high school and undergraduate students)! Dr. Johnson is widely known for his expertise in clinical informatics, with research in e-prescribing, medication safety, computer-based documentation and health information exchange, and a focus on pediatrics.

"Dr. Johnson has had a remarkable impact on the Medical Center, successfully guiding one of our most admired and prolific academic departments for a decade while also making significant contributions that have advanced the application of information technology in our health system and throughout our research enterprise, placing VUMC at the forefront of a range of initiatives," said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC.
Our faculty and students have conceived and implemented examples of the transformative work now in routine use around the country, including Vanderbilt-developed technologies such as REDCap and Webgestalt.

We have faculty, staff, students and trainees from all over the world! This year, we welcome a student who worked in France and a trainee who was born and raised in Iran!

For more information on DBMI, watch this Intro to DBMI video below! 

Learn More About the DBMI Centers!

Important VU News & Announcements

Vanderbilt University COVID-19 Updates

COVID-19 Updates: Dashboard, Sentinel Testing Program, Academic Support and Gatherings – Sept. 3, 2021

  • Dashboard: The university will launch a public COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday, Sept. 8 and will provide weekly updates on case counts every Wednesday this fall moving forward in the COVID-19 Updates section of MyVU. The dashboard will be available on the Health and Safety Protocols website.
  • Sentinel Testing Program: The university will launch a sentinel testing program for vaccinated individuals this month and will extend testing center hours to accommodate this new program. Sentinel testing captures a random sample of vaccinated individuals from the campus community to help monitor prevalence of COVID-19. More information will be shared soon. The Testing Center located inside the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center will be open on Labor Day.
  • Academic Support for Students in Quarantine or Isolation: Students in quarantine and isolation should contact their instructors to discuss a plan to access class material and make up missed work. Faculty will work with students as they do other times when a student misses class due to a medical condition. 
  • Gatherings: For the health and safety of our campus community and any visiting guests, the university will limit large indoor events with a substantial number of visitors. Large outdoor events with visitors also may have additional requirements and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

COVID Updates: Dining, Rec Center, Masking, Testing – Aug. 30, 2021

  • Due to the higher transmissibility of the delta variant, the high rate of infection in the Nashville region, and out of an abundance of caution, Vanderbilt University is providing updates and information regarding its COVID-19 protocols (dining, recreation center, masking and testing) as of Monday, Aug. 30. Read more in MyVU News here.
Student Health Center to Expand Symptomatic COVID-19 Testing to Saturdays, Other Symptomatic Testing Options for Campus Community
  • The Student Health Center will offer symptomatic COVID-19 testing on Saturdays throughout September. The center is already open Mondays through Fridays for COVID-19 testing of symptomatic students. No appointment is necessary. Saturday’s walk-in hours will be from 9am-12:30 pm on Sept. 4, 11, 18 and 25. Read more in MyVU News here.

Everything Students Need to Know About Receiving Mental Wellness Care and Support

Caring for mental wellness affects every part of a person’s life by reducing stress and anxiety, increasing resilience, building self-awareness and feeling better emotionally and physically. At Vanderbilt, there are robust resources to support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in multiple ways through the Student Care Network, the Office of Student Care CoordinationThe Center for Student Wellbeing and the University Counseling Center. Read more in MyVU News here.

Celebrate Diverse ‘Dores Day – September 9

Diverse ‘Dores Day, an annual event showcasing the offices, organizations and departments on campus designed to empower and equip Vanderbilt community members to be agents of positive social change for the university, Nashville and the world at large, is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 9, from 12:00 pm–4:00 pm. The event is open to all Vanderbilt students, staff, faculty and postdoctoral scholars. Read more in MyVU News here.
Kim Unertl, PhD, MS, FACMI, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

GRE Update for MS/PhD Program

A Message from the Director of Graduate Studies 

Hi everyone,
In light of the pandemic and ongoing social issues, we decided in summer 2020 to pursue a temporary waiver of use of the GRE for the research MS/PhD program in biomedical informatics. Because the temporary waiver process was fairly involved, it opened the door to the question: Should we move towards making the GRE waiver permanent?
To answer this question, the Admissions Committee considered the data around GRE use, including studies conducted here at Vanderbilt by the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) office on the lack of effectiveness of the GRE in predicting meaningful outcomes in graduate school performance, current/emerging patterns of GRE use among our peer biomedical informatics programs, and the lengthy history of data regarding biases in the GRE test itself and on the barriers the GRE introduces to access to graduate school.
After review of the data, the Admissions Committee voted to move forward with pursuing a permanent waiver of the GRE requirement with the Graduate School. The next step after this will involve formalizing a transparent holistic applicant review process, without the GRE
I will keep you all updated as this process unfolds. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this! Take care and be safe. — Kim 

Master's/PhD Students

Our MS and PhD programs are welcoming six new students this semester. See below!

Marco Barbero Mota – MS Student

Marco received a Master in Bioengineering from the Imperial College London (September 2020). Marco was employed by INSERM—Paris University—Bichat Hospital in Paris, France. He is being funded from a Fulbright scholarship.

Brian Douthit, PhD – MS Student

Dr. Douthit received his PhD in Nursing from Duke University (March 2021).
Dr. Douthit is a VA postdoctoral fellow and is pursing a Master's degree. His mentor is Michael Matheny.

Uday Suresh – PhD Student

Uday received his Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Berkeley (May 2018). Uday was employed at Lokavant as Chief of Staff in New York.
He is pursuing a PhD and is funded from the National Library of Medicine.

Victor Borza – PhD Student

Victor is in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). He received an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College.
He will pursue a PhD and his mentor is Jonathan Mosley.

Monika Grabowska – PhD Student

Monika is in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). She received an undergraduate degree from University of Virginia.
She will pursue a PhD and her mentor is Wei-Qi Wei.

Hannah Slater – PhD Student

Received a Bachelor of Science from University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (May 2021).
Hannah is pursuing a PhD and is funded from the National Library of Medicine.

Postdoc Section 

VUMC DBMI hosts a vibrant community of postdoctoral trainees who conduct cutting-edge research and launch a career under the mentorship of an established faculty member. 
Yet it can also be a stressful experience as trainees transition to the relatively unstructured format of the postdoctoral fellowship and begin establishing their research career.
At DBMI, we are committed to supporting our postdocs with access to the resources and assistance they need to be successful!

Welcome: Yasemin Akdas, PhD, MPH – Non-degree Postdoc

Dr. Akdas received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Florida (December 2019) and was Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biomedical Informatics funded through IBM from May 2020 – March 2021.
Dr. Akdas is funded from the National Library of Medicine.

What's a Postdoc?

At DBMI, you will meet several types of postdocs:
  • Degree-seeking postdocs supported by the T15 training grant from the National Library of Medicine – These postdocs typically have terminal degrees in a non-informatics field (e.g., an MD or PharmD, or a PhD in another field) and complete an MS in biomedical informatics to bring their research career into alignment with informatics. T15 postdocs typically have 3 years of support.
  • Non-degree postdocs supported by the T15 – These individuals usually have a previous degree in health or biomedical informatics or a closely aligned field and spend their 3-year postdoc focusing on mentored research.
    • Megan Salwei, PhD, whose degree is in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is an example.
  • Degree-seeking or non-degree postdocs supported by the Veterans Administration – These postdocs are similar to the T15 postdocs but have access to VA resources and data for their research.
    • Brian Douthit, PhD, who joins DBMI after recently completing his nursing doctorate at Duke, is in this category.
  • Non-degree postdocs on the Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine (VGM) training grant – These postdocs are supported for 2 years to focus on research in biomedical informatics, pharmacogenomics, precision phenotyping, and disease-based genomics.
  • Other postdocs – These individuals have training and expertise comparable to that of other postdocs but are hired by faculty members or centers with funding from grants; they are usually not seeking degrees.
    • Siru Liu, PhD, who joined DBMI this year to work for VCLIC, is an example.
At DBMI, we have several initiatives to provide additional centralized support for our departmental postdocs, regardless of their funding source.
  • Individual development plan (IDP) – This worksheet is completed by the trainee in collaboration with their mentor and is designed to facilitate and structure discussions about expectations for the position and the postdoc’s career progress. We are centralizing the process so that for all postdocs, IDPs are submitted to the department’s Academic Progress Committee. Each summer, the committee reviews and discusses postdoc-submitted IDPs, then issues a progress letter to the trainee and their mentor.
  • DBMI K Award workshops – Vanderbilt has excellent centralized resources and events to support grantwriting ( To supplement these, Dr. Ancker has launched a series of specific aims workshops in which DBMI postdocs present their draft aims for friendly review and group discussion. The workshops are an opportunity to get informatics-specific domain feedback as well as general K guidance. We welcome faculty to participate as discussants! For an invitation, contact Dr. Ancker.
  • DBMI K Award grant repository – All trainees are encouraged to apply for access to Vanderbilt’s excellent Funded Grants Library. As a supplement, the department has created a smaller library of funded and unfunded K proposals in health and biomedical informatics. For access or to submit your proposal to the library, ask Dr. Ancker or Mia Garchitorena.
  • Onboarding – For postdocs not funded on one of the training grants, we are instituting a new onboarding meeting with Dr. Ancker, who will introduce trainee and mentor to Vanderbilt’s rich suite of resources for career development, life coaching, and grantwriting.
  • At DBMI, we take enormous pride in our trainees. The department has a well-deserved reputation as a training ground for leaders in biomedical informatics – and as an excellent place to work. Our postdoc initiatives are meant to ensure that all fellows receive the support they need to thrive and succeed.
If you have suggestions for other ways to improve the postdoctoral experience, please contact Jessica Ancker at

Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine (VGM) Training Program 

The Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine (VGM) Training Program, based in the Center for Precision Medicine (CPM) and led by Josh Peterson, Nancy Cox and Dan Roden, focuses on pharmacogenomics, precision phenotyping, medical informatics, and disease-based genomics. Please welcome our newest VGM fellows! See below:

Megan Lancaster, MD, PhD

Dr. Lancaster is a VGM postdoctoral fellow in DBMI's CPM. She is also a third year fellow in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and one of the chief fellows this year. She is also a member of the Harrison Society (VUMC’s physician-scientist training program).
Because Dr. Lancaster’s father served in the U.S. Air Force, her family moved around quite a bit (Florida, Utah, Ohio, and then finally Pennsylvania). Her parents still live in the Philadelphia suburbs and she considers that home. Dr. Lancaster currently resides in Nashville and is trying to convince her parents to move here! 
Her research interests involve arrhythmia pharmacology and pharmacogenomics. Methodologically, she’s employed both mechanistic computational modeling and machine learning approaches, and is excited to start working with larger datasets from electronic medical records and biobanks. She will be joining the Roden lab for her postdoctoral work.

Minoo Bagheri, MSPH, PhD

Dr. Bagheri is a VGM postdoctoral fellow in DBMI's CPM. She is originally from Tehran, Iran, and currently resides (and loves living) in Nashville. Dr. Bagheri’s long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator, performing epidemiological, multi-omic translational research in nutritional sciences. 
Dr. Bagheri enjoys hiking, reading, and listening to music. She will officially join DBMI in October 2021. 

Master's of Applied Clinical Informatics

(MSACI) Program

Scott Nelson, PharmD, MS, CPHIMS, FAMIA, Program Director for MSACI
Hi everyone!
We are so excited to welcome our newest class of MSACI students for 2021-2022 and looking forward to a great year!
Our first-year students will be working on mastering the concepts and foundation of applied clinical informatics. The second-year students will be focused on application of those concepts with their capstone projects, with topics in machine learning, predictive modeling, clinical decision support, as well as interoperability and efficiency gains.
We are excited to be a new HIMSS Approved Educational Partner (see the news below), and we look forward to continued growth in the program.
Just a reminder, our MSACI program will be fully remote this year, so be sure to exchange hellos via Zoom or Teams! We can’t wait to see what our students bring to the table! For our clinicians: The best way to predict the future is to build it!
Watch this Intro to MSACI video below and visit our VU website here! 

DBMI Welcomes Fall 2021 MSACI Students

The leaders of the MSACI Program are pleased to welcome its newest class of students! Pictured below (from left to right, top to bottom) are: 
Anirban Bhattacharyya, MD, MPHZhengfeng (Jason) Chen, MDCasey Distaso, MDHolly Ende, MDPeter (Beau) Mack, MD; and Edward (Eddie) Qian, MD!

Masters in Applied Clinical Informatics Program Received HIMSS Approved Education Partner (AEP) Certification

In March 2021, Vanderbilt’s MSACI program was named an Approved Education Partner (AEP) by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Vanderbilt’s Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI) and the School of Nursing also received HIMSS AEP approval.

Scott Nelson, PharmD, MS, CPHIMS, FAMIA, Program Director for MSACI, led the approval. "We created MSACI out of nothing about five years ago, so this is an exciting validation," said Dr. Nelson. “The AEP designation shows that we are meeting the training needs of the growing health informatics profession. This will provide our program with more exposure to future students and provide those students with confidence that the education provided will prepare for an informatics career.” Read more in the VUMC Reporter here

DBMI Contacts & Resources

Do you need assistance with something but don't know who to contact? See our list of incredible DBMI administrative staff below and send them an email!

Rischelle Jenkins — MS/PhD Program Manager

Claudia McCarn, MBA — MSACI Program Manager

Belinda Ballard — HR Administrative Manager

Coda Davison, FACHE, PMP, MPA, BBA — Director of the Project Management Office

Mia Garchitorena, MA — Communications Consultant

  • Contact Mia for communications and marketing needs, including profile changes on the DBMI website, social media advice/assistance, job postings, graphics, PowerPoint presentations and more. 
  • If you have an interesting personal backstory or recent accomplishment, or a study you recently published, email Mia!
  • Email:

Wil Comstock — Lead Administrative Assistant

Barbara Payne — Lead Administrative Assistant

Cynthia Williams — Program Manager (Center for Precision Medicine)

  • Contact Cynthia for matters related to the Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine (VGM) Training Program and the Center for Precision Medicine (CPM). She also assists Dr. Josh Peterson (Director of CPM).
  • Email:   

Freneka Minter, PhD, MS, MCHES, PMP, CCRP — Senior IT Project Manager (Center for Improving the Public's Health through Informatics)

Terri DeMumbrum — Grants Manager

Open Positions

Visit here to view current open positions throughout DBMI and its Centers. If your team has an job opening, please email Mia Garchitorena at

Upcoming Events

Visit here for more details on the upcoming DBMI webinars and research colloquiums in September 2021.
Suggestions? Email