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SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Medical Informatics Program

Master's Essay Requirements

Master's Essay

Students are expected to complete a small original research project 'master's essay' as part of their degree requirements. Students should start thinking about this as early as possible, and take advantage of opportunities to do literature searches in topics in which they may be interested. The research methods course is a prerequisite and provides the opportunity to learn methods of answering specific research questions.

Important things to note:

  1. An original research project, unlike papers students may have done in the past, is based on actual formulation of appropriate, precise, and doable research question which can be the basis of a project which can be completed with the time and resources available. This means it is impossible to leave things until the end and 'cram' - write a paper a few days before, as it requires data collection, possible human subjects work, data analysis, sometimes building or critiquing systems or clinical observation etc. This requires planning, sometimes permissions from other entities such as committees or hospitals, acquisition of hardware or software, scheduling subjects, and similar issues.
  2. There is no 'required length' for the essay. It must follow standard scientific format as appropriate to a journal article, in other words, must adequately have Abstract, Introduction, Background, research question, Methods, Analysis methods, Findings/Discussion, Limitations, and Conclusion sections. As long as these are written adequately there is no lower or upper length limit. In the past, papers have ranged from 12 to 70 pages in length. Appendices are appropriate for materials such as survey questions. Note that appropriate literature review includes reading enough to have mastery of the topic and state the gap that the master's essay work will fill. The introduction and background sections of journal papers you have read are examples of how to write the literature review.
  3. Research questions: these must be precise and doable. They may include hypotheses if you can test them. You must think about methods you could realistically use to answer the question.


Why do the clinicians in department X have so much more difficulty/dislike the EHR more than in other departments?

Possible methods:

  1. interviews with clinicians in two or more depts.
  2. observation - follow the clinicians around and observe
  3. surveys
  4. log file analysis of actions in the EHR - is there something different about the needs or performance in that department?

What is the difference between clinical and technical users' opinions about usability of EHR X, rated along Nielsen's 10 usability heuristics.

Note that statisticians in the Downstate library are available for consultation (BEFORE you start the project).

Some ways of finding research questions

As you work in your internships, or while reading, observe, think about what is

  • Interesting
  • Unsolved problem
  • Something your boss would find useful/wants
  • Experiments you can do
  • A gap in the field you are well placed to fill (e.g. do you have access to data, users that is unusual?)
  • A particularly onerous part of the healthcare delivery system which IT, mathematical or other methods might help
  • Information needs that users express, or particular problems users complain of
  • Things from the literature that are relevant; gaps that occur

Background - important things to think about

  • Is there literature on this system? (academic, from vendor, white papers…)
  • What do others in the institution know? (e.g. why it was built, what needs are, history of how things were decided, politics of decision making, concept of future needs, etc.).
  • Are there any techniques you need to become proficient in first to do the study you want? (e.g. using Morae usability software, statistics, data analysis…
  • How long do you expect everything to take? Make a Gantt chart of all your expected activities.
  • What if there are delays or other problems? What could occur and how will you handle it?