An assistant professor in the School of Public Health’s department of health care administration and policy, Soumya Upadhyay shares her passion for research that explores how technology can be used to enhance patient safety and improve quality of health care.
How did you end up becoming a professor?
Before UNLV, I worked for a large hospital system in Northern California. My background includes serving as a strategic management consultant at Kaiser Permanente, a performance improvement specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and a clinical data analyst at Sutter Health. In my area, I was always thinking about how health care quality can be improved for patients and how care can be made safer. After a car accident, I quit my job and spent two years recovering my health. When you’re forced to take a break, you begin reflecting on life. I pondered on what was next and felt like I could explore more through research, so I decided to pursue a Ph.D. I’ve always been passionate about teaching. My dad was a professor in mathematics, and my mom (also a professor) tells stories about me as a child, where I would play teacher with my younger siblings and cousins.
UNLV is a growing research institution. It’s exciting that we recently achieved Carnegie R1 status. I wanted to be a part of a university that had enhancing research capabilities as a goal and supported innovative research. Last year, I received a $20,000 Faculty Opportunity Award from UNLV. Recognition like that makes me I feel like I’m in the right place and working at an institution that supports researchers like myself. Additionally, UNLV’s attributes of being daring, different, and diverse are key characteristics that would draw people to it.
Biggest surprise about Las Vegas
I didn’t know there was so much art in Las Vegas until I visited the Arts District.
Define public health
For me, the field of public health is simply about promoting and protecting the health of people in the communities they live in. A question we are always trying to answer is, “How can we improve the health of these people?”
What separates the UNLV School of Public Health from others?
The UNLV School of Public Health recently became the first accredited school of public health by the Council on Education for Public Health in Nevada. Only 66 schools in the world have this designation. Furthermore, the health care administration and policy program became accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. I was proud to be involved in that process. Not many programs in the world have this title, and we worked very hard to get it.
What makes the school great is how supportive it is of faculty and students. We are also a diverse group, which makes us special. Through the courses we teach, students can take what they learn and make tangible changes in the real world. For example, in our program, students become health care administrators — which are much needed to run hospitals efficiently. We also have graduate students in our Health Disparities for Nevada program who receive training and move on to help narrow gaps of health among people of diverse backgrounds. We are developing our students to make meaningful changes and impacts on the community.
Biggest misconception about health care
That health care quality is the best in the United States. In reality, when you look at the data and compare us to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, you’ll see that we’re not doing as well in many indicators. We’ve got a long way to go to improve health care quality. The key is improving access and reducing cost, since we know how expensive health care is for people.
Research you are most proud of
I am most proud of the work I’ve done to understand the role of technology in patient safety. Sometimes, people think hospitals are dangerous places. You go there to be treated, but become at risk of further complications and infections. Then, you have to come back and get treated again. Figuring out how we can make the health environment much safer through technology is something that intrigues me.
Why students should pursue a health care career
There’s a strong need for better health care administrators and managers in the industry. After graduating from a program like ours, students can make a tremendous influence on how health care can be made available and accessible to people in our community and across the nation. They’ll be able to influence and improve the quality and safety so that health care can be improved for all patients that come to the hospitals and facilities, including nursing homes, long-term care, and mental health facilities.
We need better policymakers, too. Usually, when people think of medicine, they think about the clinical side or the hard sciences when it comes to technology. The management part of medicine is sort of a hidden field. We are in need of more students to become managers and facilitators making these important decisions in health care.
Something people might not know about you
I actually love gardening and painting — especially watercolor painting. In addition to my family, these are the things that keep me going in life. I’ve been painting for years. Initially it was a fun activity I explored, but I found out I was good at it. My peers don’t even know about this.
Advice you would give your younger self
I would tell myself to take it easy. Life is a journey, and success is determined by your satisfaction and happiness in life, more than your accomplishments.