Ngan MacDonald’s Impact Story

What does impact mean to you?

The ability for what I do to make healthcare work better. I feel certain that we are on the precipice of change in healthcare and that liberating the data and make it flow securely will change our healthcare. So much of the current rules and algorithms we use today to determine if someone needs care is determined by information that is lacking for large swaths of the population. Let’s change that by making it easier and more secure to get and share your healthcare data.

Can you tell us what your current role is?

I am a bridge builder between the people who understand what we need to do to solve healthcare issues and the people who have the technical expertise to solve these problems. My role at the Institute for Augmented Intelligence (I.AIM) is that of connecting our academic research with industry collaborations. We need to work together in this new space of AI because it requires a lot of data that is high quality and well connected in order to solve problems in a way that is fair and equitable.

Thinking about impact, can you describe 2-3 projects or initiatives you were involved in that mark a major achievement for you in your role?

During the pandemic, we wanted the do something fun that would also highlight the talent we have in the Midwest to solve some of the issues of health disparity using data and computational methods. We launched a student competition that called on multi-disciplinary teams to compete over 6 months to develop their ideas. Our winning team from Penn State developed a solution that simplified discharge instructions for patients as they were leaving the hospital. We are in our second year of the competition and are excited to see the next winning teams. You can find out more about it here:

As an academic institution, we think about how we can make education more accessible for all levels of students. Currently, the field of Health Data Science is hampered with too few people for the work we have ahead of us. This area has a long learning curve because healthcare data is not easily accessible. It is deeply regulated and so many potential recruits to this field spend many years getting access to the data. We are building out a Health Data Gymnasium that is a safe space for students to have access to the data, people and tools in order to learn how to work in Health Data Science.

We launched I.AIM three years ago and for most of that time, we were quietly building a community, finding the experts and spreading the word that data needs to be considered in the context of ethics and historical bias. When ChatGPT was released in November 2022, the spotlight was suddenly focused on our work. We quickly convened a panel of experts who do research and work in this arena and our first webinar had 1,100 registrants with 700 people who attended. We were able to convene this and our second panel on the legal implication for healthcare of large language models because of the work we had been doing for the past 3 years to build out a trusted community of collaborators.

How has your membership in WIB helped you in your professional growth?

My membership in WIB has exposed me to the wider world of biotech, which is a sector of healthcare I had not previously had much exposure. The 3.8 program in particular, taught me the value of my own expertise separate from my employer and my job responsibilities. I feel confident in my ability find the answers to most questions because of the incredible women that I’ve gotten to know at WIB. This community is so nurturing and at this point in my career, it’s been great to see the talented young women that are coming up behind me. It has given great hope in what we will be able to accomplish.

How do you plan to further your impact in the future?

I am currently a co-chair of the Membership Committee for the Chicago Chapter of WIB. It is a role that feels natural because I love talking to women about what a great organization this is and the value that I’ve gained from being a part of it.

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