[Edu-sig] Programming for non-programmer IT professionals (in healthcare)

Jim Harrison jhrsn@pitt.edu
Fri, 17 Nov 2000 13:33:36 -0500

on 11/17/00 8:18 AM, Kirby Urner at pdx4d@teleport.com wrote:
> Python could provide more transparency in this realm,
> especially if we add some ODBC and SQL to the picture
> (Python add-ons), plus maybe some Numeric Python.  The
> idea here would be to access some large data tables and
> do some analysis on them.

...not to mention a little CORBA to illustrate intersystem communication and
enterprise system architecture, using one of the ORBs that is accessible
from Python. 

> Brainstorming around the idea of an electronic medical
> record defined using OO principles might be another focus,
> combined with Python's evolving powers in the realm of
> XML.  The idea here is to open the world of structured
> information, and around something so complicated as
> medical histories.  How do you structure the relationship
> between patients, procedures, outcomes?  Plus there's the
> whole financial side (where clinical info sometimes gets
> mixed in, i.e. ICD9 codes + specific medications).

These are the sorts of things that I'm interested in formulating as problems
to be addressed by programming tasks over the second portion of the course.
We won't be able to get very deeply into them in an introductory course, but
just raising these issues in a simple way in the setting of programming
instruction would be a substantial improvement over the current curriculum.

> I would agree with you that a year of C could give a
> more warpedly and less useful approach...

I'm not talking about a year of C. The requirement is one semester. As far
as I'm concerned that's almost useless and in some cases detrimental.

> [A] curriculum ... mixing pre-
> written modules with exercises requiring student
> programming (in Python) might easily go deeper into
> the subject area...
> What's important is, as you've indicated in your post,
> a kind fluency, an ability to think like a programmer
> in _some_ language.  Python is an excellent language
> for developing this fluency, gaining this style of
> thought.

Just so, and that's the entire point. Though my focus is medical
informatics, I think this issue goes beyond any particular subject domain.
The concepts in CP4E were conceived with respect to beginning programming in
secondary schools and perhaps the first year of undergrad. I see them
transposing almost perfectly to upper level undergrad and graduate education
in settings where "programming fluency" is necessary but technical skill in
a medium or low level language is not.

Thanks for the thought-provoking reponse.

Jim Harrison
Univ. of Pittsburgh