Monday, April 25, 2011

So, You are a Surgeon, Since You Do Operations!

When I fly, which is often, I always bring along some work, which may include papers to review, a paper that I am writing, a presentation that I am going over, and/or articles to read.

Oftentimes, my airplane seat-mates will get curious, and will ask what kind of work I do and if I reply that I work in Operations Research, inevitably, I get a response akin to "So, you do surgeries!" I don't like to disappoint and respond that, yes, I am a doctor, but a PhD, and not a medical doctor.

But the work that we do is not unlike that of a surgeon -- we have years of education, we prep, we train students (think -- surgical residents), we often work with collaborators, as in a surgical team, and we focus with precision and concentration as we analyze the world and data around us, construct the proofs, and code our algorithms. The postoperative period and patient care are like waiting for those referees' reports, which sometimes requires a lot of patience, as we wonder whether the paper (patient) will make it through and be published (survive), or not ! And, hopefully, we don't get too bloodied in the process. Also, what excitement when we see our results going forward and making an impact.

Now, with more members of the O.R. community heavily involved in healthcare, we are drawing even closer to "being surgeons."

Some of the push / pull for O.R. in healthcare, is coming from students, who see this as an area in which they can make positive contributions. For example, speaking from personal experience, one of my doctoral students has been researching blood supply chains, from analysis to design, with help from the American Red Cross, whereas another has been focusing on the optimal design of multiproduct supply chains with healthcare applications.

Blood supply chains present unique challenges, since this is a highly perishable, but life-saving product.

As for supply chains for healthcare products, which include vaccines and medicines, just recall the shortages of H1N1 vaccine last year, and the shortages of the leukemia critical drug, cytarabine, this year. A leukemia patient in our area, could not get this drug for her treatment at Mass General Hospital, a leading hospital, because of the shortage!

My doctoral students will be presenting their papers, Supply Chain Network Operations Management of a Blood Banking System with Cost and Risk Minimization and Multiproduct Supply Chain Network Design with Applications to Healthcare, at the First Northeast Regional INFORMS Conference at UMass Amherst, May 6-7, 2011.

In the meantime, you may also wish to read the thought-provoking article on healthcare in Cuba by my UMass colleague, Dr. Hari Balasubramanian, the Chair of our conference, that appeared in the most recent issue of ORMS Today. Wouldn't it be nice if doctors still did home visits?!

Take care of yourselves and try to stay healthy!