UW Major: Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering
Age: 38 | Baltimore, Maryland
Associate Professor, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
As an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Ayse Gurses puts her PhD in industrial and systems engineering to use improving the safety and quality of health care. She has already compiled a 22-page resume that details her extensive success in the field of patient safety and human factors engineering.
While a PhD student at UW-Madison, Gurses took advantage of exceptional opportunities. Being on a campus with a strong academic medical school, a hospital and an industrial engineering program allowed her to learn about systems engineering as it relates to health care firsthand.
"UW-Madison provided me with the ability to learn and conduct high-quality, theory-driven research that is based on practical, real-life situations," she says.
Her research seeks to save lives by eliminating preventable errors. In a study of cardiac surgeries in five hospitals, she and her colleagues found patient-safety hazards in 58 categories. For instance, hand sanitizers were out of doctors' reach, and it took 20 minutes to transfer patients from operating rooms to critical-care units due to the lack of dedicated elevators. Different units used different types of intravenous pumps, forcing medical staff to change equipment and thus increasing the chance for mistakes.
The first industrial engineer specializing in human factors engineering to be promoted to associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Gurses is currently researching patient safety in relation to cardiac operating rooms, transitions of care and care coordination. She also studies how providers comply with evidence-based guidelines in these areas of patient care, as well as researching the working conditions of nurses.
Most of her work is focused on scrutinizing the big picture. "The underpinnings of interventions we develop are based on strong scientific evidence, coupled with active participation and input from all stakeholders, including front-line clinicians, patients and family members, administrators, designers and so on," she says.
Her achievements in the area of human factors and ergonomics have earned her worldwide recognition. In 2013, she received the Early Career Investigators Award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, which honors those who have made major scientific contributions within 10 years of earning their PhDs.
Gurses plans to continue developing engineering solutions that effectively address multiple health care system issues concurrently. "In my future research, I would like to work more closely with patients and family members to design a safer health system that is also more patient and family friendly," she says.
In her own words
What do you miss most about campus?
Hanging out at the Memorial Union Terrace and enjoying Lake Mendota.
What is your proudest UW achievement?
The realization that my research can have an impact on improving the quality and safety of health care, and on top of it, receiving a federal grant to support my dissertation research.
What advice would you offer graduating seniors?
Spend considerable effort in identifying what you want to achieve in your life and career; don't rush it. Dream big — I mean really big: work with and learn from the best in your field. Work very hard toward your goals, and keep going, even if you think the obstacle in front of you is really big and scary. Finally, never stop asking questions!
What are you reading now?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
What three items would you take to a desert island?
Laptop with wi-fi connection, sunglasses and my tea bags.
Who is your hero?
Anyone who has made a positive impact in this world despite the overwhelmingly negative odds.
What do you do in your free time?
Spend time with my family, take long walks and come up with my best research ideas while doing these fun activities.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate mousse or tiramisu and Earl Grey tea.
What is your favorite quote?
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." — Albert Einstein
If you could trade places with any person for a week, who would it be?
A scientist in the year 2100.
What would you be if you hadn't chosen your current career path?
Probably still an academician, because learning and being a "professional student" for life are what make me happy.
What's next for you?
Engineering a much safer and more efficient health care system.