In 1974, Colleen Roberts went straight from high school into nursing. In the early 1990s, she went back for a bachelor’s degree in nursing just as her employer, Intermountain Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, began actively using data to help shape patient care.
At the time, she noticed that data was beginning to change behaviors — and improve patient outcomes. She also noticed she liked working with the data. “I was interested in it, and it was challenging, and I obviously like the challenge,” she says. She had always intended to get more education, and a divorce further motivated her. She also found that the demands of bedside nursing were wearing on her over time. So in 1998, at the age of 42, she started work towards a master’s degree in clinical informatics at the University of Utah. She felt out of place — she was neither young nor a programmer. But she knew how clinicians worked, and she knew how to apply the data. She got her master’s in 2002, and became a data manager for the cardiovascular clinical program at Intermountain.
As a data manager, “my biggest job was facilitating between people who talk clinical and people who talk information systems,” Roberts says. “They need help translating.” She was a particularly effective translator, because on the IT side, she could explain the process challenges doctors and nurses faced while caring for patients. And when talking to doctors and nurses, “when I mentioned I had been a bedside nurse for 25 years, I suddenly gained their respect and their willingness to listen to what I had to say. I wasn’t just an IT person who didn’t understand their world.”