Physician and UNC Charlotte graduate candidate Saugat Karki was selected recently for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) prestigious Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program (PHIFP). This two-year training program is for doctoral- or master’s-level professionals, applying computer science and information technology to solve complex health problems.
PHIFP recipients help the CDC investigate and solve complex public health informatics challenges, applying expertise in information science, computer science, and information technology to address current and future informatics needs.
“Saugat Karki, M.D., not only met the CDC’s stringent criteria, but he represents the very essence of what we stand for at UNC Charlotte,” said Josh Hertel, director of the Data Science Initiative. “Saugat is one of our many international students who came to UNC Charlotte with the desire and commitment to build and strengthen communities through his natural ability to connect people with ideas and resources.”
Karki, who was born and raised in Nepal, studied in India for more than 10 years. He attended medical school in China and served as a physician for three years. In 2015, when a massive earthquake struck Nepal and left 6,000 dead and more than 13,000 injured, Karki immediately traveled to the country’s capital, Kathmandu, to help in survival efforts. He discovered that many of the injured could not be served in Kathmandu, as they were trapped in a mountainous region some six hours away. With the assistance of the Red Cross and the added public awareness led by Amelia Hillary, the granddaughter of renowned climber Sir Edmund Hillary, Karki was able to team with local volunteers, constituting tour guides, trail builders and the local climbing community to reach those who needed medical attention and basic supplies.
“Nepal has no data on a good day. So imagine what happens in a natural disaster when you have no statistics on the injured, dead, resources needed and logistics required to meet those in need,” said Karki.
He found himself serving as a doctor and responsible for gathering, verifying and mapping out the local population, injuries, food, supplies and road access. Through these efforts, his passion for health care spread into data science — and how data could be applied in health care settings for improved outcomes.
Pivoting from his studies to become a spine surgeon, Karki enrolled at UNC Charlotte to study in the Health Informatics Master’s Program. Here, he has intertwined his training in social and medical sciences with newly acquired health informatics skills. At UNC Charlotte, he has served as secretary of health affairs for the Graduate and Professional Student Government and as vice chair of the Health Informatics Student Advisory Board. Karki has been an ardent advocate regarding the power of data analytics to solve complex problems in public health.
During the past academic year, Karki was instrumental in developing a new academic/public health partnership launched by UNC Charlotte’s College of Health and Human Services and Mecklenburg County’s Public Health Department called the Academy for Population Health Innovation (APHI). In this role, he led the development of a database being used in the community to collect data from community members.
“Saugat was able to provide essential support to an important community initiative in a time of need. He used his clinical and technical knowledge to quickly develop a database that is being used every day in our community to improve health outcomes for many of our most vulnerable community members,” noted Michael Dulin, director of APHI.
“Being selected for the PHIFP is a tremendous honor,” said Karki. “In terms of who is understanding the valuable connection between data and science to advance health care, nobody is better at this than the CDC.”
During Karki’s fellowship at the CDC, he will work at the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. The team will work toward advancing electric case reporting of STDs by utilizing cloud strategies and an STD data repository, which contains legacy and current STD data.