The Many Faces of Data: Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives during My Internship at ICH

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By Sami Hamdan

As an intern at the Institute for Community Health (ICH), I had the opportunity to study several different aspects of public health that fascinate me. However, my work at ICH also gave me the opportunity to explore health care and health reform through a lens that I had not previously considered: qualitative and quantitative data for evaluation.

As a Health Policy and Management concentrator at Boston University School of Public Health, I have been particularly interested in health reform and improving the delivery of care. I had taken many public health classes during my time as an undergraduate, and so I began my first full MPH year with a basic understanding of public health. As my classes continued to delve more deeply into health policy and management, I became very interested in gaining more practical experience with the health care system. Because the health care system is so complex, I wanted to gain deeper insight into the daily work of researching and supporting healthcare interventions. Because of this, I became interested in ICH’s work.

During my time at ICH, I worked as an intern for the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and Patient-Centered Medical Home Transformation (PCMH) projects with the Cambridge Health Alliance, primarily with the results from a two year Workforce Survey. I assisted with quantitative and qualitative data analysis, report development, and several other small tasks that make a large project work. I became very familiar with Excel, especially the little short cuts that make long and complex data entry more efficient and accurate. I also learned how to use Excel for qualitative work and how to do basic qualitative coding. I realized that qualitative data offers a fascinating insight into people’s ideas and can give life and perspective to quantitative data and survey answers. I also learned that developing reports is not just about the information, but also about making a clean and engaging presentation (especially for graphs and charts) and using concise language. I was also able to attend several meetings with site leadership at the various Cambridge Health Alliance sites; learning how to present data back to clients was a very useful and important skill.

During my time at ICH, I had a wonderful experience working with very dedicated and supportive team members. I learned the value of working with a strong team, especially when reporting an immense amount of data concisely but accurately. I also learned the value of different perspectives in data: the quantitative and the qualitative. Because I spent so much time with the qualitative data on this project, I learned how powerful it can be, particularly when it is combined with quantitative data. Qualitative data provides nuanced feedback and gives a voice to the numbers, which are useful and incredibly important, but sometimes unclear. As is the case with so much else in health care, it takes multiple perspectives to form a clear picture.

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