Dr. Joel Arun Sursas is a skilled Medical Doctor and Health Informatician motivated to solve administrative problems in healthcare. His determination to work tirelessly to bridge the gap between doctors and engineers is resulting in medical technology solutions that improve patient outcomes, enhance monitoring, and protect patient privacy. Dr. Joel Arun Sursas is an effective communicator who facilitates the achievement of team goals.

How did you get started in this career?

My foray into Medical Informatics began in 2016 when I served my National Service (The Army) in the capacity of a Medical Project Officer for PACES – the Patient Care Enhancement System. This was the Singapore Armed Forces Medical Corp’s largest informatics endeavor yet, in implementing the largest Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system in Singapore.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time that you doubted this career path? If so, how did you handle it?

Absolutely! I had to wear two hats for two years – one as a clinician and another as an IT Project Officer. Medical school doesn’t adequately prepare one for large-scale governmental projects or train one in communicating “techie” with software engineers and implementation consultants.

At first, I felt quite lost – but as I constantly engaged in deep and insightful discussions with clinical specialists to understand their workflows, pain points with existing outdated systems and safety concerns regarding patient data protection, I soon got the hang of it and started to enjoy it immensely. On the flipside, I would translate these clinical and business needs into technical needs for our software engineers.

How did you get your first job?

Before I served in the Singapore Armed Forces, I practiced as a Doctor in various specialties for two years. In hindsight, this varied experience brought a lot of value to my role as a Health Informatician – it made engagements with senior specialists seamless, as we spoke the same language. After my two years in the Army, I joined a medical device start-up company – BIORITHM. As the only Doctor in a team of engineers, I head the clinical affairs department and continue to have deep and meaningful conversations with global key opinion leaders in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology to identify gaps in the management of high-risk pregnancies.

I take the insights gleaned from these conversations back to my team, design clinical trials and study protocols and incorporate our revolutionary fetal distress monitor into them to validate the device.

What is the toughest decision that you’ve had to make in the last few months?

One of the toughest decisions I’ve made recently is in pursuing post-graduate studies. Despite having three solid years of experience in Health Informatics and feeling extremely confident in entering the Medical Informatics space, I felt that I needed to develop myself professionally and academically. I’ve recently enrolled into the Johns Hopkins Masters in Applied Health Sciences and Harvard Medical School Safety, Quality, Informatics and Leadership (SQIL) Programme simultaneously. It’s a bold move – given that both are rigorous programmes, and quite costly at that. But I think the nuanced expertise, global professional network, and credibility conferred by these programmes will be more than worth it.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

My ability to communicate effectively. The importance of communication in healthcare cannot be understated. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of honing my communication skills by engaging with healthcare workers, engineers, and key opinion leaders. I believe it is a life-long skill, and I’m continuously refining it to this day.

What has been your most satisfying moment in your career?

It probably has to be when we won the National Health IT Excellence Award in 2017 for PACES. Having been the Project Officer for the largest military EMR in South-East Asia, I felt extremely proud that we implemented a medical informatics solution that benefits 300,000 soldiers every year.

What does the future hold for you? What are you most excited about?

At BIORITHM, we currently have 4 clinical trials underway in Singapore, Melbourne, and the United Kingdom. I’m extremely excited about validating our fetal monitor via the CE, TGA, and FDA 510K regulatory pathways. Once we clear this milestone, the journey ahead will be most exciting as we market our device and revolutionize fetal monitoring worldwide.

What books have inspired you?

I’m an avid reader and make it a point to read at least two books every month – so this is a challenging question! If I had to list a few that I’ve read recently, they would be –

  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  • Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown

What is the best $100 you’ve spent recently?

I recently bought the Python Crash Course by Eric Matthes. It’s a hands-on project-based introduction to programming, and so far, it’s been really fun! The content encourages experiential learning, and there’s a bit of theory thrown in there as well. I love learning new things, and I’ve observed my team of engineers conversing in Python, so I decided I’d like to learn their language as well to enable more effective communication.

Leave us with one point that few individuals know about you.

I love writing as much as I love reading. I spend my weekends doing freelance medical writing/journalism. It kills 2 birds with 1 stone – I immensely enjoy the process of researching and writing medical content and at the same time, it’s an opportunity to keep up-to-date and abreast with the ever-changing medical landscape.

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