Faces of UMSI: Michelle LeBlanc
From dental hygienist to healthcare administrator to data scientist, recent MADS grad Michelle LeBlanc says she took the long way on her career path but finally got where she was going with UMSI’s Master of Applied Data Science program.
Currently living in Chicago with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, Michelle started with the very first MADS cohort in 2019. As of August 2021, she is a member of the program’s first graduating class.
With her MADS degree freshly in hand, Michelle just accepted her first data science position at Blue Cross Blue Shield identifying fraud, waste and abuse in insurance claims, which is something she says she saw a lot of during her days as a dental hygienist.
While shifting from the dental field to healthcare administration, Michelle focused on developing her skills with data and technology, self-driven to grow her career with the initial help of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
“I had only ever used a computer for email and internet browsing before starting my Master of Healthcare Administration program in 2016,” Michelle says. “Every time I noticed a skills gap, I’d find an online course to learn what I needed to know, first with Excel, then Tableau, and then eventually SQL and Python.”
“The Coursera MOOCs taught by Chris Brooks and Dr. Chuck were some of my favorites, so Michigan quickly went to the top of my list. The flexible scheduling of the four-week classes really sealed the deal,” she says.
After earning her Master of Healthcare Administration in 2018 and joining a team focused on advanced analytics and informatics at healthcare performance improvement company Vizient, Michelle enrolled in the MADS program with a deep interest in how applied data science can be used to solve problems in the healthcare industry.
“The U.S. healthcare system has a well-earned reputation of being inefficient and inequitable,” Michelle says. “The data-driven reforms of the past 20 years have had uneven results. Patient care outcomes measured by these programs have improved, but the data reporting requirements are a burden on organizations serving vulnerable populations.
“More data in itself isn’t the answer — it’s a tool that needs to be intelligently and selectively applied. Machine learning sounds cool and sexy, but it’s not a panacea. Applied data science is about using data science techniques of all kinds to solve a problem, and there are still plenty of problems in the healthcare industry.”
The factors that initially drew Michelle to the MADS program, like the four-week class structure, allow her to explore all the program has to offer while affording her the opportunity to grapple with some of the healthcare industry’s problems head-on.
“The four-week class structure allows for some fun courses that would never make it into a full semester program, whether that is very specific subject areas like Communicating Data Science Results or Presenting Uncertainty, or applied courses like Learning Analytics or Social Media Analytics,” Michelle says.
And in SIADS 697: Capstone with Lecturer Elle O’Brien, Michelle and her teammates connected on common healthcare backgrounds to collaborate on a project that aimed to help clinicians embrace more nuanced predictive analytics.
“For me, it’s not just that I’ve been able to take advantage of world-class instruction without having to leave my life in Chicago,” Michelle says.
My classmates are in every industry and at every point in their career path: data science veterans looking for an official credential, established data analysts looking to advance, early careerists fresh out of undergrad. Everyone brings so much to the table. I’ve learned so much from my classmates.
Factoring in her full-time job and “full-time family,” Michelle says completing the MADS program in 24 months was very manageable overall. In fact, she and her husband were still able to devote time to a passion project while she pursued her degree.
“My husband and I have been slowly but surely renovating our 135-year-old worker’s cottage-style house in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago,” she said. “We’re about to hit the ten year mark and the list of to-dos is still long, but we’ve enjoyed every step.