Health solutions grad goes from Ebola crisis to improving health care
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
When George Karway first came to ASU in 2014 as a Mastercard Scholar, a full scholarship for students who demonstrate exceptional potential yet face significant barriers to pursuing a degree, he planned to study education. The Ebola outbreak in his home nation of Liberia made him reconsider that plan.
“Fear was so rampant and physicians so scarce when the crisis hit that even suspicion of Ebola infection would land a patient in quarantine,” Karway said. “No one wanted to come close to you. No one wanted to test you if you had any symptoms. I talked to my parents every day, and they would tell me how even health care providers were getting sick and dying. Because people were being quarantined without testing, people who had escaped the virus initially caught it after all.”
At the same time the Ebola virus was spreading through Western Africa, Karway learned about the field of biomedical informatics, an interdisciplinary field that uses technology to improve health care. He found himself thinking, “What if we had a system to detect if patients had Ebola?” That, he said, is what prompted him to change his major and enter the College of Health Solutions.
Karway completed his Bachelor of Science in biomedical informatics in 2018 and a Master of Science in biomedical informatics in 2019, graduating with summa cum laude honors. Interested in becoming a university professor, he continued on at the College of Health Solutions to earn his PhD in 2022.
During his doctoral studies, he earned the ASU University Graduate Research Fellowship twice in support of his innovative community-based research. Through this research, Karway has worked with 16 different health care organizations in the Phoenix area to examine how patients feel about sharing their health records between providers. Currently, in Arizona and in many other states, patients are given an all-or-nothing choice when it comes to having electronic health records passed from one care provider to another.
“One thing we are learning is that while patients want to share information, they don’t want to share all of their information,” Karway said. His research showed that out of 209 patients surveyed, 90% wanted to share some information, and none wanted to share all of it. Often, it’s the behavioral or psychological health care issues patients want to keep private because of stigma or fear of stigma, Karway said. “Giving patients a choice in sharing their information would improve integrated care,” he said.
Karway attracted recognition in scholarly circles outside of ASU as well. He is the first ASU graduate to be named student editor for the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, a top-tier journal in the field. His research has appeared in nine highly rated scientific publications so far, including in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics, which is ranked No. 3 out of 30 medical informatics journals.
“George’s trajectory at ASU is truly an example for other international students,” said Maria Adela Grando, an associate professor in biomedical informatics who nominated Karway as an outstanding graduate student. “He is a role model and inspiration for other students who dream to thrive at our university.”
Karway shared more about his experience at ASU and his plans to contribute to health care in the future.
Question: What are your plans after graduation?
Answer: Eventually, I want to become a professor in clinical informatics, working specifically with patients and empowering patients to take care of themselves and their families. My immediate plan is to continue my education in a postdoctoral program for the next two years, and then pursue a faculty position.
Q: What made you choose ASU?
A: In high school, I knew I wanted to go to a university, and one of my teachers gave me a list of schools in the United States. When I started doing research, I found out that Arizona State University had a huge number of international students. I wanted to come to a place where I would be able to see other international students and interact with them.
Q: What is something you learned at ASU that changed your perspective?
A: I learned to accept feedback. I learned that when people give you feedback, it’s not to bring you down. It’s meant to build you up and give you a different way of looking at something.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: All of my professors taught me important lessons, but Grando taught me about hard work and organization. Organization was something that I was not really good at when I entered the program.
Q: What’s the best advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Be passionate about what you are studying. Be determined, committed and collaborate with other people. Know that other people are in your life to help you grow and challenge yourself. Reach out for help if you need it.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would tackle health care disparities. When I was growing up, there was a huge gap between people living in rural communities and people living in urban areas. We did not have health care in my community. We used to walk for an entire day to go to the nearest health care facility. We had to spend the night and then walk back. There were no paved roads, and there were hills, mountains, a river – all those things. It was a road you can’t travel by car. If I had $40 million, I would like to spend it to make sure that health care is accessible to people living in rural communities.