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The Health and Clinical Outcomes Research, Health Data Science Student Spotlight Series: Nitin Katakam (‘24)


Nitin Katakam (’24) is a second-year student in the master of health data science program in the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. 

Young, Indian man in grey suit and glasses
Nitin Katakam, M.S. ('24)

Joining the program after receiving a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from Mahatma Ghandi Medical College and Research Institute in Pondicherry, India, Katakam shared his thoughts on why he chose the SLU master's of health data science to continue his training, what stood out to him about the program, and what he hopes to do in the future after graduation.  

What inspired you to pursue health data science?  

Initially, the realm of research seemed daunting to me, yet an opportunity presented by a professor during my clinical rotations sparked a profound interest that has persisted ever since. Delving into health data science appeared as the perfect avenue to immerse myself fully in research methodologies. It promised to equip me with skills in the statistical aspects of research—a component often met with apprehension by many clinicians. This realization guided me toward this course. 

What advice would you give to incoming students interested in HDS?  

Two words: REACH OUT. Please reach out to your faculty. They are very friendly and willing to  help you. If they can't, they will direct you to someone who can. You will not be overlooked. Other than this, I would say be thorough with your coursework. You don’t have to be perfect with what you learn. All that is expected of you is a decent, honest effort. Most times, that is all you need. Also bear in mind that the coursework touches upon all the necessary concepts for a data scientist, but it is on you to build on those concepts. 

What are your future aspirations or career plans upon completing the program and what job title will you be pursuing

I aim to work as a research analyst within clinical research upon graduation and would like to work up to a research scientist position. I think traditional research is evolving and embracing data science more by the year. There's lots of potential here. 

How would you describe what ‘health data science’ is to someone who has not heard of it before?  

My answer to this has definitely evolved over time. But to put it simply, it is statistics on steroids. We clean, analyze, make predictions and present our findings about data to improve health care. For instance, if we notice a spike in common cold cases, we don’t just count them. We dig deeper: Is this spike normal? How fast are cases rising? What might happen next? We can do this normally. But, let's say we want to predict/analyze such trends at a nationwide scale with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of data points. That’s where health data science stands out, but it’s so much more! 

Why is the field of health data science important?  

I think it is at the forefront of medical research, unlocking the power of vast datasets — from thousands to billions of data points — to refine our understanding and decision-making in health care. Such statistical power is invaluable in medicine, a field where a false negative or a false positive can mean/cost a lot. 

Can you share a memorable experience or project from your time in the program?  

One of my most memorable projects was a geomapping analysis focused on the visualization of smoking trends, marijuana use, the area deprivation index (ADI), and their correlations with cancer. I accurately predicted drug overdose deaths, highlighting significant regional health disparities. My statistical analysis — using Mann-Whitney U and chi-squared tests — revealed significant correlations between various factors and cancer incidence across different states. I personally like it because it is my most aesthetically pleasing project due to the heatmaps and trend charts. 

What skills or knowledge have you gained that you believe will benefit your future career?  

I think the attitude of approaching any problem/project with a willingness to learn is what has rewarded me the most in my research projects. I've also developed strong technical skills in data analysis and visualization using tools like R, BigQuery and Python. Additionally, my medical background and research experience have equipped me with the knowledge to apply data science effectively in health care contexts. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with fellow students and alumni about your journey in HDS?  

The faculty are the best part about the program. They absolutely love it when you are proactive and will go a long way to help you grow. It's been amazing to see the department evolve, welcoming more brilliant minds into the faculty recently. Plus, if you're ever in need of a quiet spot to hit the books, the department offers a great study space that's pretty much a bonus. 

About the Health Data Science, M.S. 

Saint Louis University's Master of Science in Health Data Science is designed to prepare students for a career in today's data-driven health care industry. Successful data scientists possess an artful ability to blend, synthesize and communicate data for use in clinical decisions by patients and providers, as well as advancing quality improvement efforts across health systems. 

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About the Department of Health and Clinical Outcomes Research 

The mission of the Department of Health and Clinical Outcomes Research is to serve as the collaborative bridge between divisions, departments, and colleges/schools across medicine and the health sciences to support methodologically rigorous research to solve complex health problems. The Department of Health and Clinical Outcomes Research is a scholarly community of faculty, staff and students committed to strengthening the delivery and outcomes of medical care through education and training programs, innovative research, and consulting services.