Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, FAAP, FAMIA, FACMI
Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor & Chair of DBMI

Letter from the Chair

Hi everyone, 
This month marks nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began for us as a department. It seems like yesterday when we packed up our things at 2525 West End Avenue and set ourselves up to work remotely. There are countless things from the past year that we can reflect on, but I want to focus on you and your impeccable resilience during 2020 and three months into 2021. Thank you for continuing to do what you do during these challenging times. 
To recognize our work and to generate positivity and connection within our department, we have launched a new monthly newsletter called "DBMI Digest." It will serve as an internal news source as well as a hub for wellness tips, work reminders and more. I'm most excited about the Digest's employee spotlights, which will give us a glimpse into the lives of our colleagues - whether they are faculty and staff or students, postdocs and alumni.
If you want to be profiled, or if you'd like to nominate a colleague to be highlighted, email Mia Garchitorena, Communications Consultant, at Feel free to submit any newsletter suggestions or feedback to!
Thank you for your continuous work and dedication towards improving healthcare through informatics. Enjoy DBMI Digest, Volume 1! — Kevin 

Table of Contents

  1. Department News & Announcements
  2. DBMI Celebrates: Women's History Month & Black History Month
  3. Faculty News
  4. Educational Updates
  5. Employee Spotlight: Jessica Ancker
  6. MyVUMC
  7. HR Updates
  8. Open Positions
  9. Tips & Tricks
  10. Kevin's Korner
  11. Upcoming Events

Department News & Announcements

Masters in Applied Clinical Informatics Program Receives HIMSS Approved Education Partner Certification

Vanderbilt’s Master of Science in Applied Clinical Informatics program (MSACI) 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.
In order to be named a HIMSS AEP, a training and education program must meet HIMSS’s standards for effective health information technology and healthcare education. It must also be able to prepare health IT and healthcare professionals to pass HIMSS-approved review courses and training programs, including for the CAHIMS and CPHIMS certifications.

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," says 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.”
With the AEP designation, DBMI will be able to provide seminars, lectures, and educational webinars through HIMSS and provide CPHIMS continuing education. HIMSS approved DBMI’s AEP designation for its in-depth informatics course and content design, outstanding faculty and advisors, and leading educational program that will prepare students for the dynamics of the changing industry.
Congratulations to all!
MSACI Program Now Accepting Applications!
Vanderbilt's Master of Science in Applied Clinical Informatics Program (MSACI) is now accepting applications for Fall 2021. Early applications were due on Feb. 15. Final applications are due April 30. Read more here!

JAMIA: Call for Papers for Special Focus Issue — Due March 15

The call for papers for a special focus issue on Informatics for Sex-and Gender-related health is open. JAMIA will consider original research, case reports and more. Submissions due March 15. Read more here.

DBMI Webinar Highlights: Epic Founder Judy Faulkner Q&A

The CEO and founder of one of the world’s largest electronic health record (EHR) vendors, Judith Faulkner of Epic Systems Corp., spoke about her company and answered questions at the Department of Biomedical Informatics weekly online seminar on February 17, 2021. 
Dara Mize, MD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics, moderated the seminar. She asked Faulkner what Epic might be doing to help relieve the clinical documentation burden for clinicians. Faulkner said the company is still at least two years away from releasing an artificial intelligence component that could listen in on the conversation between the clinician and patient and then draft clinician orders and a plan of care. Read more on the VUMC Reporter here.

DBMI Celebrates Women's History Month — March 2021

Women's History Month began as a local week-long celebration in Santa Rosa, California, in 1978. Thanks to the efforts of The National Women's History Alliance and subsequent presidential proclamations, women's achievements are now recognized and celebrated on a national level during the month of March.
TWITTER FEATURES - CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: In recognition of Women's History Month, we would like to feature a few profiles of DBMI faculty, staff, students or postdocs on Twitter. If you or someone you know is interested in being profiled, please reach out to Mia Garchitorena at

DBMI Celebrated

February was Black History Month. In recognition of Black History Month, we featured a few of our DBMI faculty and staff and asked them about their backgrounds, what the month means to them, and their thoughts on how biomedical informatics can improve healthcare disparities. Read their stories on Twitter by clicking the posts below!

Yaa Kumah-Crystal, MD, MPH, MS

Dr. Kumah-Crystal, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Pediatric Endocrinology, shared what data scientists can do to improve healthcare disparities as well as who inspires her when she thinks of Black History Month. Read more here

Freneka Minter, PhD, MS, MCHES, PMP

Dr. Minter, staff scientist in DBMI and Senior Research Specialist in CIPHI, looks back on her family history and what her family members overcame in their lives. She also reflects on her own successes and provides some advice to young scientists of color. Read more here.

Lindsay Mayberry, PhD, MS

Dr. Mayberry, Assistant Professor of Medicine and secondary faculty member in DBMI, shared what Black History Month means to her as an ally. She also described her work on how tailored text messages and engaging with patients' family members and friends can help patients with Type 2 diabetes take control of their health and close the gaps in healthcare disparities. Read more here.

Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, FAAP, FAMIA, FACMI

Dr. Johnson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor & Chair of DBMI, shared three things that biomedical informaticians can do to improve disparities. He also shared his background and how he came to where he is today. Read more here

Faculty News

New Epic Genomics Module Launching in Summer 2021 

Travis Osterman, DO, MS, Director of Clinical Informatics at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics & Medicine, is leading the implementation of a new, dedicated genomics module at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) that will make these test results much easier to access. Read more in Momentum here

Brad Malin Elected to AIMBE's College of Fellows

Three Vanderbilt University faculty have been elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Congratulations to:
Brad Malin, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Biostatistics and Computer Science, Vice chair for Research Affairs in Biomedical Informatics and Affiliated Faculty in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society.
Reed Omary, MD, MS, Carol D. and Henry P. Professor and Chair of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Director of the Medical Innovators Development Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Cynthia Paschal, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology and Radiological Sciences. Read more here!

Wei-Qi Wei Received $1.7M NIH Grant to Sort EHRs by Phenotype

To speed up searches of EHR data, Wei-Qi Wei, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in DBMI, and colleagues began offering researchers everywhere in May a free download of a prototype called PheMAP—Phenotyping by Measured, Automated Profile. Now, the NIH funding will help sort health records by phenotype. Read more here.

Colin Walsh Received $1M FDA Grant to Develop EHR Tools to Detect Signs of Suicidality

Colin Walsh, MD, MA, Assistant Professor of DBMI, Medicine, and Psychiatry, received the grant to develop natural language professing of suicidal thoughts and behaviors into EHR text. Read more here

Jessica Ancker Joined DBMI as Vice Chair of Educational Affairs

Jessica Ancker, PhD, MPH, joined the department as its newest Vice Chair for Educational Affairs. Read more here.

Educational Updates

PANEL: How to Kick-Start Your Career in Clinical Informatics — March 10

Technology now touches almost everything we do in healthcare. The world of clinical informatics can be a new experience for many of us, with all the additional education requirements, new terms, and new ways of seeing the world all around us. However, once you have the training and desire needed to pursue a career in clinical informatics, how do you kick-start your career? This panel of experts will help to answer this question, and many more you may be having. Read more here.

2021 DBMI Research Forum — May 25 & 26

Please save the date for the fifth annual 2021 DBMI Research Forum on May 25-26! 
DBMI Research Forum Poster Session
Date: Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Time: 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
The session will be virtual.

DBMI Research Forum Presentations
Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Time: 12:00 – 2:00  p.m.
The session will be virtual.
We hope that you will attend this special virtual DBMI Research Forum!

Employee Spotlight: Jessica Ancker

Each month, we will feature one member of our DBMI faculty, staff, or students. If you or someone you know is new to the department, has an interesting backstory, or is making an impact at work or in their personal lives, email Mia Garchitorena at!  
Jessica Ancker, PhD, MPH, is one of many talents. She is an accomplished journalist, musician and world traveler who’s fluent in Mandarin. But her true passions lie in biomedical informatics research and education.
For more than a decade, she has been working at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where she developed the Master’s in Health Informatics program. On January 1, 2021, she began her new role as Vice Chair for Educational Affairs at Vanderbilt’s Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI), an organization she has long admired. 
“Vandy is a huge leader in informatics and training and the PhD program is world-renowned," she says. “It's exciting to come to a place where there’s so much work going on that I've respected for years."
Though she has only been working for DBMI for three months, she has already made huge strides: She is currently working with Cynthia Gadd, PhD, MBA, MS, FACMI on rewriting the T15 Grant, which funds our PhD students, and submitting it for renewal. She is also working closely with Kim Unertl, PhD, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in DBMI, and Rischelle Jenkins, Program Manager of the DBMI Master’s and PhD program, on student and postdoctoral affairs.
"Education is important to me in terms of my personal fulfillment," she says. “The opportunity to support Vanderbilt’s students was a big draw for me.” 

Midwestern & Musical Roots

Dr. Ancker was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. As a kid, she was excited by everything around her, which included art and literature as well as science, math, and nature. She fondly remembers making pencil marks on the windowsills with her stepfather to track the sunlight’s angle when it shined through her back kitchen window. “We could see the angle changing over time, and it made me feel that we lived on a planet!”
At a young age, she discovered she had a passion for music. She later studied music theory, piano, recorder, flute, and piccolo at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s conservatory prep program. She became so adept at the flute that she joined the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and toured around Europe with the New England Conservatory Youth Orchestra.
“Classical music has been my hobby all my life,” she explains, adding that she played regularly as a member of several orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music groups in New York. “Because of COVID, I haven’t found my Nashville music community yet, but I’m looking forward to doing that when I can.”

Finding Her Way

Because she liked both the humanities and sciences, she chose to major in history and science after being accepted to Harvard University. There, she studied topics like the relationship between social structures and health and the influence of public policy on science.
After college, without a clear plan about next steps, she jumped on an unexpected opportunity to teach English at Nanjing University in China. She describes the experience as eye-opening. The students were extremely eager to learn English as the language had been “strongly discouraged until only a few years before.” It was also uncommon for English to be spoken in China as there were few foreigners visiting the country at that time, so Dr. Ancker became fairly fluent in Mandarin and traveled across China to visit various cities, tea plantations, Buddhist temples, the Mongolian plains, and the Great Wall.
She even took a train along the Silk Road to the home of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group in China, and was invited to spend lunch with a nomadic sheep-herding family in their yurt.

From Journalism to Biomedical Informatics

Following her year-long experience in China, Dr. Ancker began her career as a journalist, working as a reporter for the Associated Press and later as a medical editing manager at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where she combined her interests in writing and science.
“Journalists, at their best, are like scientists,” she says. “They ask questions until they figure out the right answer. They’re also committed to transparency. Trying to write for the public is a really good exercise for scientists. I recommend it!”
She became increasingly fascinated with how numbers were used and misused in decision-making, and she became hooked on biostatistics after taking a course on the subject. This led her to change her career path and pursue a Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University's Department of Biostatistics in New York, where she took the full biostatistics course load and also studied epidemiology, health policy, environmental health and social determinants of health and worked as a clinical trials statistician.
She then earned her PhD in biomedical informatics from Columbia before joining as a faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she was committed to making an impact on students. She maintained her journalism skills by giving lectures on statistics for journalists at Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and more.

What COVID Revealed

As she reflects on the past year since the COVID-19 hit the U.S., she touches on how the pandemic showed us the limitations of data-collection and data sharing infrastructure. “COVID showed us that our public health data collection capabilities are falling behind where they should be due to under-investment,” she explains, adding that there was no strong leadership in government or informatics to take charge of the vast amount of COVID-19 data. She points to Johns Hopkins becoming a leader in collecting COVID data when the federal government wasn't doing so.
"We’re relying on the New York Times for our data," she says. "That’s where we recognized the need for thought leadership and investment dollars and the potential of the data analyses - looking at electronic health record data to do rapid retrospective studies of patient outcomes and identifying disparities of socioeconomic status in healthcare, such as death rates etc."
But the future in the realm of COVID-19 and informatics is promising, she says. “It takes time to do prospective studies, but the fact that we have huge collaborators putting these data collections together and getting results that are meaningful for human health is showing the power of what’s possible. The pandemic has exposed enormous flaws in our country’s medical, public health, and data infrastructures, but it is also showing us the power of big data.”

Back to Normal

During these past three months, while navigating a new role, Dr. Ancker has undergone another challenge: orchestrating a move to Nashville during a pandemic and winter storms. Her husband, John Affleck, is a faculty member at Penn State University, and so during the pandemic, she is dividing her time between Nashville and central Pennsylvania. She is looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy.

“I’m hoping by the summer or fall, we’ll be back to more normal standards of socializing and spending time in the office where I can get to know people!” she says with a laugh. “In the future, I’d like to be in the office and be able to have tea with my colleagues and students.”

Say hi or send your favorite tea recipe to Dr. Ancker by emailing her at! 

"Vaccine 501": Hear from VUMC Colleagues About Why They Chose to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine

Read more here and watch VUMC employee testimonials below: 

COVID-19 Vaccine 501
What are the recommendations around wearing double masks? 
On Feb. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a study that examined aerosol spread between mannequin heads wearing masks. The study results further confirmed that wearing a well-fitting mask can significantly reduce (by about 95%) the risk of coronavirus exposure. Read more here.
21st Century Cures Act: Know What's Happening With Patient Notes and Test Results
A new training module is available in the Learning Exchange. Click here. Information, including FAQs and important links, will be available on the VUMC Interoperability and Information Blocking website: Specific questions may be directed to the team at Read more here.
REMINDER: Blood Drives Continue to Meet Critical Need; Antibody Testing Available
The American Red Cross continues to face blood shortages due to blood drive cancellations during the coronavirus pandemic. To help, the American Red Cross is holding regular blood drives at Vanderbilt University Medical Center locations.
To schedule an appointment for drives at Light Hall, go to and enter the sponsor code "Vandy19" or visit the sign-up link. For drives at One Hundred Oaks, go to and enter the sponsor code "VUMC" or visit this sign-up link. Read more here

Apply Now

The Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science's Frontiers of Biomedical Imaging Science Series runs through May 2021. Read here.
Proposals open for the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) Meharry-Vanderbilt Community Engaged Research Core mini-grants; deadline is March 19, 2021. Read here.
Nominations open for annual Chazen Award for Innovation in Medical Education; deadline is March 26, 2021. Read here.

HR Updates

VUMC Offers Employees 15% CSA Membership Discount

Employees have a chance to enroll in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) at a discounted rate of 15 percent. VUMC has partnered with Rooted Community Health and three of the best farms and CSA programs in the Nashville area to offer this program. CSA stands for community supported agriculture and works like a subscription program for vegetables, and participants receive a share of the harvest from local farms. 
The first 150 employees who sign up will receive a 15 percent discount on a CSA membership. You can purchase a half or full share from one of three participating farms. The cost for a full share can be up to $725 and up to $420 for a half or medium share, depending on the farm. See below for the list of farms and links to their websites. Read more here.  

6 Coping Strategies to Combat Pandemic Fatigue

Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, Manager, Work/Life Connections-EAP, provides six long-term strategies for coping with the ongoing pandemic. Read more here

If you are finding yourself becoming depressed or struggling with how to cope, contact Work/Life Connections-EAP to set up a confidential appointment with one of our EAP Counselors by calling 615-936-1327.

Appointments Direct Access Line for VUMC Health Plan Members Now Available

All employees on a VUMC health plan have access to the Appointments Direct Hotline, which provides preferred access to appointments. One call means seeing a Tier 1 provider within one week. Call 855-724-2454 to schedule. Read more here

Microsoft Teams Training Available in March

Two options for Teams training are available during March via the Learning Exchange: “Microsoft Teams Basics” and “An In-depth Look at Teams’ Functions”. 
If interested, visit the Learning Exchange to sign up for a session.

Got the Vaccine? 

Appointments slots for the COVID-19 vaccine are still open to employees. If you would like to receive the vaccine and have not already done so, please click the button below to email Elizabeth Brown, Chief Business Officer, who can schedule your two-dose appointments.
Email Elizabeth

Open Positions

Below are current open positions throughout DBMI. If your team has an job opening, please email Mia Garchitorena at 
Center for Improving the Public's Health through Informatics (CIPHI)
Center for Precision Medicine (CPM)
Colin Walsh Laboratory
Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine Training Program (VGM)

Tips & Tricks

Need a Graphical Abstract? Here Are Some Tips

Some journals, like the Journal of Biomedical Informatics, now require that authors supply a graphical abstract for all types of articles at the time a paper is first submitted. 
A graphical abstract is a single, concise, pictorial and visual summary of the main findings of the article. This could either be the concluding figure from the article or a figure that is specially designed for the purpose, which captures the content of the article for readers at a single glance.
The graphic should summarize the contents of the paper in a concise, pictorial form designed to capture the attention of a wide readership and for compilation of databases. 
Please refer the following link for details of Elsevier's requirements for graphical abstracts and their specifications:
For an example of a graphical abstract please click here. Gather Town! Jazz up your virtual meetings by incorporating this fun, 8-bit style video-calling tool! Try out a demo here.

Kevin's Korner

Informatics in the Round, Season 2, Ep. 1 

What data do we need to manage life after COVID? What are the questions people need to be asking today so that we can capture the information they need us in healthcare to know?
Dr. Johnson is joined by Sarah Bland, leading project manager in DBMI; Alissa Abeler and Hannah Smith, a singer/songwriter duo called The Daily Fare; and Colin Walsh, MD, a physician and national expert in predictive analytics (AI, machine learning) focusing on mental health and behavioral disorders. Listen here!

Kevin Johnson Featured in The Tennessean

Tennessee Voices: A Conversation with Ray Vaughns & Kevin Johnson
Vaccine hesitancy exists in people across all demographics. Many news reports have focused on doubts held by Black and brown communities. However, health care workers have also expressed their reservations about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Johnson and Ray Vaughns, assistant director of operations at Monroe Carell Jr. Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, spoke with Tennessean opinion editor David Plazas about vaccine hesitancy stemming from documented abuses of African Americans—such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study—and how they use empathy and science when talking to colleagues and communities. Listen here!
OPINION | I volunteered for the Moderna vaccine study to help end the COVID-19 pandemic

Kevin Johnson shared why he volunteered for the Moderna COVID-19 trial. Read here.

Upcoming Events

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