Employee spotlight interview: Karen Finnegan, PhD

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How would you describe your role at ICH?
I am a research and evaluation scientist. I lead the data services team which means that I am a principal investigator on some projects and I also work as the lead analyst on more advanced quantitative analysis projects. In my role in data services, I support our epidemiology staff in their work.

What is your educational background?
I have a PhD in health systems from Johns Hopkins, an MPH in epidemiology from Emory University, and a Bachelor’s in Spanish and Latin American studies from Bowdoin College.

What was your career path before coming to ICH?
It’s been a series of lucky accidents. I first got into health through Community HealthCorps, which is a type of AmeriCorps program. I was placed at a community health center in Dorchester. I did some direct patient contact where I helped connect patients to social services but also had a lot of flexibility and freedom. I used Boston Public Health Commission’s reports, which detailed the health of the city by neighborhood, and created flyers and a bi-lingual newsletter to inform the community about pressing health issues. This job was really fun and fascinating and a great introduction to the power of data. When I decided to go back to school, I had never taken a statistics or epidemiology course, but I started my master’s program, and I just loved it. I really love crunching numbers and thinking about what data mean.

After graduate school, I worked at Abt Associates as a senior analyst. I provided monitoring and evaluation support to a USAID project that worked in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. I worked on projects centered around family planning and reproductive health. I did focus groups with doctors who were trained to do vasectomies in Honduras. I also conducted a cost effectiveness analysis of different models of providing voluntary counseling and testing for HIV in Guatemala. I traveled to Jordan and worked with a huge data set on reproductive health services provided to refugee women. It was about a million records and, at that point, the largest data set I had ever worked with.

What made you decide to come to ICH?
I was looking for work that would let me use my quantitative skills but be quite varied in projects. I wanted to use lots of different types of data and think about data in lots of different ways and ICH offers that.

What are some projects that you are working on right now?
I’m working on an analysis using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to understand the impact of proposed changes in the public charge rule on whether kids who are sick will receive benefits.

I am also working on a project with CHA to evaluate the impact of the Tufts Health Together with CHA ACO on utilization of CHA patients relative to a comparison group of managed care patients who receive services through Tufts. This project uses claims data and data from the electronic health record.

Another project that I am working on is with the Lawrence Mayor’s Health Task Force to build a dashboard to help them understand their work and the health and wellbeing of the community. The data are really varied—demographics from the census, illness data from Department of Public Health, crime data from local sources, maps of available resources. It’s an exciting opportunity to think about data visualization and interpretation for many varied audiences.

What are your favorite projects topics and why?
I really like when the data are complicated. I think the best thing about working with quantitative data is that you are never know what you are going to get. It is always interesting, there is always something to be learned, even from analyses that you think are going to be routine.

I enjoy working on projects with people that are not familiar with evaluation and research methods. It is really fun to think through how you can talk about evaluation in a way that makes sense to people that don’t have a training or background in research and evaluation. Part of what I like about this job is that it isn’t esoteric, it isn’t removed and the work we do matters. Helping people who are program implementers who are really passionate about their programs think about research and evaluation is great.

What are you most excited about for the future of ICH?
I am really excited to see data services grow. I think we have an amazing team of really strong quantitative analysts who have a diverse skill set and are great at what they do. I think continuing to grow the work of data services and offering our services to small and large organizations who work in a variety of fields will be really exciting

What are hobbies or things you like to do for fun?
I enjoy reading. I’m trying to become a better cook. In warmer months, I bike a lot.

Do you have any plans for the holidays?
I will be spending time with my family and friends.

What are your new year’s resolution?
I will resolve to swim at least once a week during lunch; I am a member of the Malden Y and they have a great pool. I want to spend more time with extended family and friends.