Lashonda Watts — first student to enroll in the MD/MSIS Dual Degree program
For Lashonda Watts, becoming an information and library science student was all about options.
Watts is the first Duke University medical student to enroll in the MD/master of science in information science (MSIS) dual degree program offered by the Duke University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science (SILS). It was the option of doing something different from her other medical school classmates, Watts said, that led her to SILS.
“Most people enter Duke with plans to do lab research, clinical research, or get an MPH (Master's in Public Health), and indeed I did fall into that grouping,” Watts said. “However, my path diverged much more than anticipated in that I found that in my second year I didn't enjoy clinical medicine in the truest sense — that is, working for the good of one patient at a time — as much as I enjoyed thinking more on a systems level.”
Watts found that, despite the number of avenues of study open to third-year medical students at Duke, none of the traditional options quite fit with her way of thinking. Duke medical students take the third year — nicknamed “the research year” at Duke — for independent study in an area of particular interest to them. Students usually use the third year to conduct research, explore a medical specialty or pursue a public health degree.
The joint MD/MSIS program was created for students like Watts who wanted to take their third year of studies in a different direction. The program gives Duke medical students the chance to apply their clinical training to fields like information management, bioinformatics and evidence-based medicine. Students will come out of the two-year MSIS program ready to reverse the process: to use their new knowledge of information systems to help improve clinical settings and patient care.
Watts said the program has been a good fit for her so far.
“It's been great,” she said. “Since applying and starting the program, I've discovered a myriad of possibilities in medical informatics and technology.”
Despite the good fit, being the first student to enter the program has presented some challenges, Watts said. There has been red tape to cut through, commutes from Durham and the inevitable “so you're going to be a librarian?” question from her classmates.
“A lot of [my classmates] felt like I was checking out of the whole medical scene and getting out of health care,” Watts said. “The more I talk to them, though, the more they're on board and understand what I'm doing.”
Being able to change her classmates' minds about information science is not the only perq of being the first MD/MSIS student, Watts said.
“Being the first has been good,” she said. “I get to decide exactly what I want to do. I can kind of influence the program.”
The program has been influencing Watts , too. Changing from studying anatomy and physiology to information retrieval and systems analysis has forced her to think in new ways about information and technology, Watts said.
“It was weird changing gears,” she said. “When I came here all I could do was check my email, but I've been learning.”
With three months of learning about information science now under her belt, Watts said she is beginning to think about what she wants to do with her dual degrees. She said she is currently interested in improving people's ability to manage their own health, be it on a large systems scale or an individual one.
Watts is quick to point out that, because of the different avenues the dual degree program has opened up for her, her plans for her future aren't set in stone.
“With so many options, I'm now having a hard time choosing exactly where to lay my path,” she said. “But that's why you get an education, right? To have options.”
Watts' participation in the MD/MSIS dual degree is funded through a grant from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grant was awarded to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science and the Duke University School of Medicine. Funding covers the student's tuition for two years, a stipend of $21,000 for the two years, health insurance during the program, and support for attending one conference each year.
For those interested in applying, or to learn more about the dual degree program, see the Web site at: www.mclibrary.duke.edu/about/dualdegree