Ask a Data Analyst: Interview with Adie Fridman

We've sat down with a professional Data Analyst to learn about their job and what their day-to-day responsibilities entail.
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Data analysts work with large amounts of data, combing through the numbers to find insights, make recommendations, and track changes over time. People in this role use a combination of tools and programming languages to be able to manipulate and present all their data efficiently and clearly. To find out more about what data analysts do and how they do it we talked with Adie Fridman, a Data Analyst at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Q: What is your job title?

Programmer/Analyst II

Q: Where do you work?

CHOP, as in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Q: Did you have a different job before this and, if so, what was it?

I did. The title was Application Specialist at Cedar Sinai Medical Center. 

Q: How did you get to be in the position you are currently in?

So I wanted to move to Philadelphia and I was in healthcare already. But I wanted a position where I was more in control of the actual analytics as opposed to just bare-bones pulling data for reports. So now, in my current position, I actually get to use my brain more and do the analytics. I get to build dashboards to present data in ways that I think best represents the data. And I get to create visualizations for different teams in the hospital.

Q: What software do you use to build these dashboards?

Mostly, R. And also ClickSense and ClickView. 

Q: What are your main responsibilities as a Data Analyst?

I mostly work in quality improvement for the hospital. My main area of focus within the clinical setting currently is the pharmacy. I work alongside Pharmacists and Pharm Techs on projects that they have deemed most high-priority for improvement in pharmacy. To do that, I first pull data to make sure that the processes that they want to improve truly do need to be improved and have room for improvement, as shown by the data. Then, I work with them to build processes to actually do the improvement and track it through dashboards to make sure that the process is working. When it doesn’t work as well as we thought we tweak things and it’s an iterative process that way.

Q: What’s an example of a process that you might want to improve?

The big one that I’ve been working on is the new program that we’ve implemented to improve patient satisfaction. In this example, actually, there wasn’t any baseline to compare it to because the program didn’t exist previously. But we have been tracking it as it’s becoming more and more popular and expanding throughout the hospital. 

To summarize the project – it’s called “Meds to Beds” and the object of this program is to deliver medications to the patient’s bedside upon discharge so the family doesn’t need to make a stop at the pharmacy on their way home when they’re leaving the hospital in order to get the patient’s discharge meds. Instead, they can get it delivered right to the bedside by a Pharmacist or a Pharm Tech who can provide whatever necessary education that’s needed for taking the medication. It also ensures that the patient truly does, at least, have the medication in their possession because it’s another problem that patients aren’t actually picking up their discharge meds, which can lead to readmissions and other issues. People have really liked the program. It makes it a lot more convenient for the patients and the patients’ families.

Q: What do you like about being a Data Analyst?

I love working alongside other analysts. I think that the people I work with are truly passionate about healthcare and making healthcare, specifically at CHOP, as good as it can be. They’re all very smart and driven so I learn a lot about different software and I’ve learned a lot about building dashboards and choosing the best visualizations for the data that I have. 

Besides that, I really like working with the clinicians because a lot of them who want to build these improvement processes are pretty knowledgeable – more knowledgeable than you might think – about data and technology and they’re very enthusiastic about putting these processes into place because they really care about patient satisfaction and patient safety and these are important issues in the hospital.

Also, it’s fun when you can actually dig into a project, once the data has been cleaned and you understand what the data is telling you. It’s fun to analyze it and build a story out of it.

Q: What is hard about being a Data Analyst?

Probably the initial state of the data. The first big challenge in working on a new project is locating the data. We have massive databases and, at least in the space that I work, not very many people have worked with this data previously and I think that’s the case for a lot of people in new projects. So you have to first track down how to be able to pull the data, which is usually a challenge. And then cleaning the data is, typically, an even bigger challenge. It’s never clean and usually it takes a little while to find a pattern and figure out the best way to clean it – to wrangle it. It’s pretty manual at first. You have to look at a bunch of patient charts and validate that what you’re looking at is what you think you’re looking at, and then figure out how to organize it in a way that you can actually work with.

Q: What skills are important for Data Analysts to have?

Definitely critical thinking – maybe that one’s sort of obvious. Problem solving too. Being able to understand the data takes a little bit of skill I would say. Experience, especially in healthcare, where the data is really messy and it’s never standard – we don’t have research-grade data. 

Besides that, I think being creative is another important skill that I wouldn’t have thought I would need until I started at this job. A lot of the time you have these clinicians that you’re working with who have an end product that’s very specific in mind, that they want to have to be able to track their data. And a lot of the time it’s not super simple so I have to think outside of the box to get to an end product that’s somewhat like what they have in mind. And I don’t have that many tools at my disposal so I have to figure out a way to do it with what is available to me. 

Q: Do you have someone you can bounce ideas off of when you’re trying to figure out how to do that?

Yea, totally. I think that goes back to one of my favorite parts of my job: that I work with a lot of young and driven analysts who have all struggled with this type of thing in the past. We all have a slightly different experience and we can all help each other in figuring this type of stuff out.

Q:  What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career as a Data Analyst?

That’s a good question. I guess I would say – for a person that doesn’t have so much experience already – I would say start by watching R tutorials. You learn so much about even just data and how to do basic manipulations of data and common issues that you come across in datasets and how to clean data. The most basic R functions are built to deal with those problems so I think there’s a lot to be learned there. 

And also, learning SQL is probably the number one most important skill in my type of work. To be able to pull data, SQL is the most baseline skill and the rest sort of just builds on that.

I wasn’t so great at R when I started this job but, I think just being around people who were in the same position as me and learning alongside them really helped me. I guess, a general eagerness and willingness to learn is super important because I think this field is progressing a lot. And changing all the time. There are new tools coming out all the time and there are new upgrades all the time, so just being excited about those types of things is important because, if you’re not excited about that, I don’t know how much you would enjoy being a data analyst. You’d need to enjoy learning these softwares and basic programming skills – like, I love R. I think it would be difficult for someone who doesn’t enjoy that.

Q:  To clarify, what do you use R for and what do you use SQL for?

I do all my analysis and visualizations and dashboards in R or ClickSense – one of the Click tools. But SQL is used to pull the raw data.

Q: Is there anything else people should know about being a Data Analyst?

The ultimate advice I would give to anyone who was looking for a job as a data analyst is – if you’re like me, and you like to have people to bounce ideas off of and to work through problems with – I think the number one most important part is finding a team with like-minded people and people that are enthusiastic about the work because that, I think, makes all the difference… honestly, for any job!

Bonus Question: What do you like to do outside of work?

I love Philadelphia, where I live. I love to walk around the city. I love hiking – there isn’t too much hiking around Philadelphia but I love outdoor activities. I’m planning on getting a climbing membership too. That’s the gist of it!

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