Health Informatics Department Chair Credits Military Background for Lessons in Discipline, Leadership
Dr. Brandy Gustavus began her career in healthcare as a medic in the U.S. Air Force. Now, as the Department Chair of Health Informatics at Jacksonville University, she considers her military experience a vital part of her professional development and success in healthcare.
“I liked the attention to detail,” Dr. Gustavus said. “The military really taught the importance of leadership, and I think that is a quality that is important, especially teaching in a graduate-level program. You’re teaching students how to be leaders and top industry professionals. I always attribute my leadership skills and background to the beginning stages of my career to my experience in the Air Force.”
She served in the Air Force for four years and said she enjoyed her work on the clinical side of healthcare, but quickly realized the different roles that affect the quality of patient care.
“I started my career about 20 years ago – I’ve only been in healthcare. This is the only profession I know,” said Dr. Gustavus, who joined the JU faculty in early 2018. “I had a passion for treating patients and helping with treatment processes and patient outcomes.”
After leaving the Air Force, she continued her clinical work, but also began to incorporate the data analysis tools that would become important throughout the rest of her career. She was asked to participate in a project in which she would determine and analyze the fall rate of a particular floor where she worked. This was during the time – not so long ago – when healthcare organizations still relied mostly on paper records.
“JU is such an amazing college. It is a school that is known for their quality of education. It is well-respected in the community with an amazing culture. When I returned to Florida, I knew that was one of the places I always wanted to pursue and had a passion to be affiliated with.” – Dr. Brandy Gustavus
She used data to assess potential solutions.
“I started keeping track of the top five diagnoses, and that helped us schedule staff, assess patient needs – different components that most people, especially when you’re from direct patient care, do not think about,” Dr. Gustavus said. “It amazes me that back then, the amount of information and the impact I made on that healthcare facility just by using data. Ever since then, I was really intrigued with how you can increase a healthcare organization’s outcomes, how you can increase the quality of patient care, just by analyzing data and industry trends.”
After that, she transitioned from the clinical side and pursued a position as a clinical coder, and from there began to delve into healthcare analytics. She worked at another university as the director of behavioral health and neurology and was able to develop a new assessment of the student population’s needs from the school’s healthcare facility.
Eventually, a colleague asked her to participate on a health information technology program advisory board, and Dr. Gustavus said it was one of the best decisions she’d ever made. She began teaching health information system courses not long after that. She was able to collaborate with students and mentor them while giving the advisory board feedback on industry trends and what the students needed to learn.
“It was just an amazing feeling to see and teach these students from your own experience and then see them succeed in the field,” Dr. Gustavus said. “These students graduate and do a variety of things. They work for electronic health record vendors, they’re clinical informatics professionals, and they work for the population health departments. It’s amazing to see the growth of health informatics right now – it’s such a diverse group and diverse field that you could really go into any part of healthcare that has anything to do with data.”
Over the course of her career, Dr. Gustavus has worked for a few universities, but JU stood out to her because she grew up in the Jacksonville area.
“JU is such an amazing college,” Dr. Gustavus said. “It is a school that is known for their quality of education. It is well-respected in the community with an amazing culture. When I returned to Florida, I knew that was one of the places I always wanted to pursue and had a passion to be affiliated with.”
JU’s campus-based students can experience that culture, but do online students have the same opportunity? Dr. Gustavus said they can experience it as much as they want, as they try to encourage them to participate in orientations, honor society, graduation, and other events.
“We do try to make online students feel part of the JU community, just like the ground-based MSHI students,” Dr. Gustavus said. “But it’s also the student’s responsibility of how much they want to be involved in the school culture.”
JU’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics students receive the same level of education as campus-based students, with an equally rigorous curriculum. This is a topic Dr. Gustavus knows well − her doctoral dissertation research focused on the relationship between educational delivery (online or campus-based) and national certification pass rates of health IT accredited programs.
She advises that online students organize their time well and pay close attention to detail.
“Most graduate students are working in full-time positions or advanced-level positions,” Dr. Gustavus said. “To be successful, a student must be able to be organized, a self-starter, and manage time. When I was a graduate student, I’d always try to apply what I was learning to the field.
“Time management is extremely important because the courses are online and there is an abundance of information that needs to be read and completed. If you fall behind, it can be extremely difficult and challenging to catch up.”
Dr. Gustavus also advises that online students make it a point to communicate regularly with their professors.
“You have to let your instructors know what’s going on,” she said, “so they can support you.”