Saif Khairat is an assistant professor within the UNC School of Nursing and the Carolina Health Informatics Program. He researches how to use robust technologies, such as electronic health records and telehealth, to deliver safe and effective health care while expanding health access and equity to all people, including critically ill patients and vulnerable populations. Endeavors spoke to Khairat about how he chose his research path.
Endeavors: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Khairat: Either an athlete or an astronaut. I have always loved sports, especially soccer. I started playing soccer at an early age and continued to play competitively through college. Growing up, I was also quite fascinated by outer space. I read astronomy books and always wondered if life exists elsewhere. This curiosity ignited my general passion for research, particularly seeking answers to health-related questions. I still find astronomy a fascinating subject and try to keep up on the latest updates and discoveries.
E: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
K: My grandfather experienced a terrible medical error a few weeks before passing away. This was when I decided to switch careers from a computer scientist to a health informatician. I want to reduce — in truth, eliminate — medical errors from our health care system.
E: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
K: My classes typically include students from various academic backgrounds. The ability to deliver a message to a diverse and interdisciplinary audience that is trained to process information in certain ways can be challenging. To overcome this, I begin by asking questions. This provides students with the opportunity to explain newly taught concepts through their lens, with their own understanding, and using their own terminology. This also allows their peers to familiarize themselves with new ways of analytical thinking, thus creating an enriching learning environment.
E: Describe your research in five words.
K: Matchmaking between humans and technology. (To learn more about Khairat’s research, listen to these episodes of the Focus Carolina podcast.)
E: What are your passions outside of research?
K: I enjoy spending time with family and friends. They are my backbone and add meaning to life. I also enjoy traveling. Through traveling, you learn that no matter how much you think you know, you still have so much to discover about different cultures, places and people across our planet.
Research UNCovered delves into the lives of Carolina researchers from all disciplines and career levels, showcasing not only their research prowess but personal experiences in academia and beyond. Know someone Endeavors should feature? Nominate a researcher.