A picture of Rudy Chiu wearing a great suit, white dress shirt, and navy tie.

Rudy Chiu: Using Medical Informatics to Help Patients Understand Rehabilitation Measures

Written By:

Susan Chandler

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When Rudy Chiu was nine, his appendix burst before the doctors figured out that he had appendicitis. After surgery, he had complications and ended up spending two weeks in the hospital. The doctors and nurses there were very kind to him and happy to answer his long list of questions. Chiu decided then that he wanted to be a physician when he grew up.

He had plenty of role models nearby. His father, an epidemiologist, and his mother, a nurse, had both immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in their 20s. His older brother was also inspired to become a doctor. But when Rudy got to college at the University of Iowa there was no official pre-med major, so he chose medical informatics as his field of study. The specialty focuses on managing and analyzing data in a medical context, everything from electronic medical records to genomics, the study of entire sets of genes in living organisms.

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After Chiu graduated in 2017, he returned to the Chicago suburb of Wilmette where he grew up and his parents still lived. Chiu pursued a master’s degree in biomedical informatics at the University of Chicago and started volunteering at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where he operated lift equipment in physical therapy rooms and followed rehabilitation patients with wheelchairs as they walked down halls in case they needed rest. He also began shadowing one of the doctors and decided that he wanted to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. “Every day is different,” Chiu says. “Some patients might have a rare disease; some have disabilities from an accident or some condition that was minor and then escalated. You need to draw on a lot of different skill sets to help patients reach their goals.”

Every day is different. Some patients might have a rare disease; some have disabilities from an accident or some condition that was minor and then escalated. You need to draw on a lot of different skill sets to help patients reach their goals.

Rudy Chiu, Research Assistant

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Chiu wanted to get additional work experience before applying to medical school, so he applied and was hired as a research assistant position at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. A year later, during the pandemic, he was recruited by the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research (CROR) at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. At CROR, he worked on three projects, including one where he is part of a team creating infographics that help rehabilitation patients and their families understand what various clinical tests measures and what their scores mean. Although the project is still in early stages, the first infographic was a big hit with a focus group of people with disabilities who said they wished they had had a similar resource when they were being tested.

Chiu also worked on adding new measures to the Rehabilitation Measures Database (RMD), an online resource created by CROR that has grown to include more than 500 instruments. In addition, he played a role in a CROR grant that focuses on the quality of home- and community-based services and supports for people with disabilities. “Rudy has been a pleasure to work with, and I appreciate his input and ideas for ways to highlight the RMD,” says his supervisor, Linda Ehrlich-Jones, RN, PhD. “He is a very hard worker who always jumps in to help.”

Rudy has been a pleasure to work with, and I appreciate his input and ideas for ways to highlight the RMD. He is a very hard worker who always jumps in to help.

Linda Ehrlich-Jones, RN, PHD

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Chiu hasn’t put aside his plans for medical school. He is studying to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and recently accepted entry into a post-baccalaureate program in Philadelphia. His last day with CROR was in August. While his program won’t focus heavily on research, Chiu will take all that he learned at CROR and continue to apply it to his future endeavors. “Working in research has given me a lifelong learner mindset,” he says. “Through my work, I’m learning how we can make the results of our work accessible and understandable to patients. That’s very important to me.”

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