Sauder grads apply skills to enhance care for spinal cord injuries


Bridging the health care industry and the world of operations research can be challenging, but there is nothing that recent Sauder School of Business graduates Rachel Lewis and Argelio Santos welcome more.

“Working in health care in operations research is about giving people the tools they need to make decisions and even though we are not dealing with the lives of patients directly, our work will impact them,” says Santos.

After graduating from the Sauder's Master of Management in Operations Research program, Santos and Lewis both gained an exciting opportunity to work on a partnership between UBC’s Centre for Operations Excellence and the Rick Hansen Institute.

Alongside clinical experts, Santos and Lewis are helping to facilitate an emerging initiative, known as the Access to Care & Timing (ACT) project, which centres on developing a simulation model to describe the various stages of care through which patients with traumatic spinal cord injuries flow.

Though ACT is only in the initial stages of development, it is already creating a buzz among medical experts.

According to the project’s visionary, Vancouver spine surgeon Dr. Marcel Dvorak, the project has the potential to advance understanding of the current barriers that patients face, particularly with respect to how timing and setting influence patient outcomes. Ultimately, this research has the capacity to enhance overall system sustainability.

“Anyone who has had direct experience with the health care system or has visited someone in hospital can attest to the fact that delays in the provision of health care, the expertise of those delivering the care, and the environment in which that care is provided will impact the outcome of the patient,” says Dvorak.

The level of collaboration between operations research and health care experts has been critical in the project’s initial success. Such collaboration, says Lewis, has made working on ACT feel more like a partnership, rather than a consulting relationship.

“We need input from everybody if we are going to understand how this system works. At the end of the day, I think everybody has the same goal, which is to see patients with spinal cord injuries get better access to care,” says Lewis, emphasizing the satisfaction that she gets from her new line of work, which she says has the capacity to truly “improve lives.”

Story and photo by Kerry Blackadar.