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The Importance of Diversity in Thought and OIT Partnerships

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  • Published on: May 27, 2021

As part of OIT’s Icons blog series, we interviewed our dedicated and talented team members Dr. Kaeli Yuen and Dr. Wanmei Ou in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. Dr. Yuen and Dr. Ou have joined the OIT team as part of the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program within GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS). This program represents the very best federal agency leaders and private sector technologists.

Presidential Innovation Fellows, Kaeli Yuen, M.D., Clinical Information Specialist and Wanmei Ou, Ph.D., Data Scientist

Wanmei Ou, Ph.D., is a proud mother of two daughters, and specializes in leveraging technology to achieve a sustainable healthcare system. Dr. Ou is currently a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, focusing on developing a data and analytics platform to unleash the power of data across the enterprise to support evidence-based decision making. Since graduating from Massachusetts Institution of Technology with a Ph.D. in Computer Science, Dr. Ou has led multiple enterprise digital initiatives transforming the use of data to support precision medicine and real-world evidence.

Kaeli Yuen, M.D., a clinical informaticist and a current White House Presidential Innovation Fellow detailed to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is experienced in research, product management, and health information technologies. Her drive to make an impact in healthcare transformation was sparked by early career experiences at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, developing clinical decision support applications for electronic health records. Before joining VA, Dr. Yuen built products, processes, and teams from the ground up at several leading health IT enterprises. A native of Los Angeles, California, Kaeli received an M.D. from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, and a B.S. in biology from Stanford University.

Q. Why is celebrating diversity inclusion important to you personally?

Dr. Ou: I think diversity and inclusion reflects a lot of team spirit. Some people refer to this as diversity of thought. Without mutual understanding and respect, it is very hard for a team to be successful. Personally, I feel that if a team has diversity and inclusion embedded into their culture, and exemplified by team spirit, team members will be encouraged to speak up honestly about a particular product, whether the product meets all the requirements, or if there are missing requirements. Collectively, we can give the best, most comprehensive solutions to Veterans, their caregivers, and VA staff members. Team spirit is extremely important so people to feel product ownership and strive for the best possible solutions.

Dr. Yuen: A colleague of mine shared the following analogy a few times, which I really like: Diversity is like being invited to a dance, inclusion is being asked to dance when you are there, and equity is being part of the organizing crew for the dance. While it is important to recognize our progress in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion, we should also recognize that there is a lot of work to do in this area. This is especially important to me personally as a public servant striving to promote equity through the services we provide. Having diverse perspectives reflected in “organizing the dance” in public service will help us reach these goals.

Q: Diversity is increasingly important within the IT Field. How do you think diversity enhances our ability to advance technology that supports Veterans?

Dr. Yuen: Like any role in public service, we in VA OIT need to ensure that diverse perspectives are reflected in “organizing the dance” in our work. Though it may sometimes seem like the work in OIT may be a bit removed from diversity, equity, and inclusion, that is far from true. Digital tools are a large part of the interface the VA has with its Veterans and staff. Designing these tools to be highly usable and accessible to the population is work that will surely benefit from increasing diversity in the IT field.

Q: Tell us about your work in the Office of Chief Technology Officer. How are you able to embed diversity into the work you do?

Dr. Ou: I am currently working on a product in the data analytics space where the end users are primarily VA analysts and collaborators. Initially, we focused more on the data and advanced analytics tools for users. We soon realized there is a diverse spectrum of user requirements. Some users are more data science savvy and knowledgeable about programming languages. On the other end of the spectrum, we have staff who really understand the business context of the data, and their programming skills may not be as advanced. With the business context, they understand how data drives the “why” question. So collectively, in order to harness the best for VA data analytics capability, the data analytics platform needs to incorporate different persona requirements and bring in the right suite of tools with seamless integration.

Dr. Yuen: My work in the Office of Chief Technology Officer is largely focused on tools that help healthcare providers with making clinical decisions. While designing these tools, we are aware of how providers in different settings (e.g., different regions, rural vs. urban, etc.) with different patient populations have diverse needs and make decisions differently. We aim to get as much feedback from these different providers as possible and design the tools with this diverse set of needs in mind.

Q: What inspired your commitment to public service?

Dr. Ou: Three very important factors inspire my commitment to public service. First, I am really inspired by the mission of the VA: what we are doing, why we are doing that, and who we are working to help: our Veterans. The mission is the most critical piece. Second, is the impact. We are dealing with very large-scale data sets, the largest that I’ve dealt with in the past 20 years of my career. There are 20 million Veterans’ data with 9 million active Veterans enrolled in VA’s systems. These large-scale data sets are impactful because they drive decision-making that continues to enhance Veteran health outcomes.

The third important factor that inspires my public service commitment is the strong team culture in the OCTO. We have supportive stakeholders and high-trust team environment. Sometimes, we do have conflicts or differences of opinions based on our perspectives. However, we stay mission focused and come to a resolution to move the project forward. These are the three factors that resonate with and inspire me to work at the VA.

Q: What is your daily mantra or positive affirmation that you apply to your work life or daily life?

Dr. Ou: My mantra is directly related to diversity and inclusion. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.

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Page last updated on June 3, 2021

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