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Understanding Human Information

Jul 10, 2018
Wendy Chapman

Wendy Chapman, PhD

There is just too much information for the human mind to process. And the amount of available information is growing every day. The science of collecting and analyzing complex biomedical data to support us in our decision-making, drew me to informatics. It’s still a relatively new field and full of enormous potential for improving health and the delivery of health care. So, I am honored to have been selected as a recipient of a Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair. The award will allow extended research, mentoring, and teaching in this exciting field.

I came to the University of Utah, as a wide-eyed freshman planning to study elementary education. As an undergraduate, I encountered new ideas in fields I had previously not even known about. I also spent a year and a half in Hong Kong as a missionary for the LDS church where I learned to love language and linguistics which inspired a switch in my academic focus to biomedical-informatics.

My husband found informatics before I did and encouraged me to investigate the field. I didn’t have the typical background in computer science and medicine. But my parents always taught me to be brave and think outside the box. My dad tried to convince me that I could be the first female NFL kicker. My mom taught me through her actions that when there’s something to be done, you just dive in to do it, whether it’s learning to put highlights in your daughter’s hair or tiling a bathroom. My parents instilled in me a can-do attitude, and with this I jumped feet first into the brave new world of informatics and fell in love with it.

The School of Medicine Department of Biomedical Informatics has a rich history of collecting, processing, and presenting health data in a way that helps clinicians make better decisions and provide the best care to their patients. In my research, we apply knowledge of linguistics and medicine to help computers understand the notes that doctors write about their patients—almost like the way Siri understands your voice commands but, we hope, more accurately. It’s exciting to get the opportunity and resources to persue my goal of making a difference in health care, in the world around me, and in our community. Looking ahead, here are a few of my goals for the presidential chair resources:

  • Establish scholarships for women within the American Medical Informatics Association to attend a leadership academy;
  • Partner with University of Utah’s main campus to create a course that introduces undergraduates to the history and potential future application of informatics;
  • Create a hands-on high school curriculum introducing students to biomedical informatics, to seed the field with new students; and
  • Hire a student to work on natural language processing applied to mental health notes.

As a recipient of a Huntsman Presidential Chair, I’m thrilled with the chance to make contributions in education and research and give back to the university and community that has given so much to me. 

Wendy Chapman, Huntsman Presidential Chair

Professor Chapman with Peter Huntsman, Karen Huntsman, and President Ruth Watkins. 


Wendy W. Chapman, PhD

Guest blogger Wendy Chapman is professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the School of Medicine. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2017.

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