Early Career Spotlight: Joy L. Lee, PhD, MS
Hannah Calkins Jan 30, 2023
In the fall of 2016, Joy L. Lee, PhD, MS, came to Indianapolis to interview for a faculty position with the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at IU School of Medicine. Originally from Taipei and having spent most of her life on the East Coast of the United States, she didn’t have any existing connections to the institution or to the region. However, during the interview process, she realized that it would be an inspiring fit. Her work is focused on the intersection of health communication and informatics–and IU has a “deep bench” in both areas, she said.
“I was really drawn by the potential collaborators and mentors here that I didn’t see anywhere else,” said Lee, who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and a Research Scientist at the Regenstrief Institute Center for Health Services Research.
Nicole Fowler, PhD, Lee’s colleague and mentor, said that Lee “embodies the traits of a successful early stage investigator. Curiosity, responsiveness to feedback, creativity, and modesty combine fruitfully with her intelligence and diligence.”
Lee is a health services researcher who uses mixed methods to examine how patients and providers communicate with each other electronically. She studies electronic patient-provider communication, chronic disease management, and social media and health.
“Healthcare is so big and complex, and yet almost every one of us has a story of how an interaction with a clinician went wrong or right,” she said “I’m interested in understanding how technology can help improve some of those interactions and ultimately, improve people’s health.”
Colleague Michael Weiner, MD, MPH, lauded Lee for her courageous advancement of innovative research that has the potential to make “some other scientists and healthcare professionals uncomfortable,” he said.
“[Her work] has important implications for how healthcare leaders should design their organizations to focus on the patient,” he said.
For example, one of Lee’s ongoing projects involves an analysis of a health care team’s adoption of a clinical texting system, a tool that has replaced pagers in the hospital setting.
“What I love about this is pulling together such a multidisciplinary team of researchers— we’ve got trauma surgeons and an anthropologist in the mix,” she said. “Although we’re all looking at this new tool from different vantage points, we all have the same goal of trying to understand what it can tell us about quality of care, and how it can be harnessed to improve team communication.”
Lee is interested in improving the experiences of all patients, but she is particularly invested in those who face health disparities, she said. Along those lines, another project she’s excited about is focused on the experiences of transgender veterans.
“We asked veterans to take pictures during one of their doctor’s appointments. This allowed us to ‘see’ what matters to patients and understand their stories in a way that’s different from what an interview may tell us. These photos in turn will help us as researchers communicate the needs of trans veterans to clinicians and other VA leaders.”
In addition to her roles on the faculty and at the Regenstrief Institute, Lee was recently named Scientific Director of WISE Indiana, a partnership between the Indiana State Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) and the Indiana CTSI. In that position, she will connect academic experts with the state, review the research plans to make sure that they’re appropriate, and then support the teams as needed to complete the work.
“I think this program is a wonderful opportunity for researchers,” she said.
In her spare time, Lee says her hobbies lean toward the “indoor child” type.
“I love a spelling game (like Bananagram or the New York Times Spelling Bee), a nonfiction book that’s heavy on logistics (I recommend The Secret Life of Groceries and The Last Place on Earth), or a podcast on current events (Time to Say Goodbye).”
She and her family are also united by an appreciation for good food, she said, and her brother is a filmmaker and professional food photographer (“he’s the cool sibling and I’m the nerd”).
“I love discovering Indy’s strengths in food, with bakeries like Leviathan and Amelia’s Bread, and ramen made from scratch at Strange Bird,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fussy or expensive–it just has to be good."