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Mark Sendak

Duke Institute for Health Innovation

Inclusivity and community haven’t always been baked into data science strategies or machine learning tools. But they are guiding principles for Mark Sendak, who is leading an effort at Duke University Hospital to develop clinical algorithms that benefit everyone in the health care system, from patients and clinicians to nurses and other hospital staff. 

Sendak, a child of immigrants who was trained as a physician, has a clear understanding of how uneven access to health care can be — and how often that can lead to unequal care for the people who need it most.

“I ground a lot of the work I’m doing in the mindset of patients who are going to have the most challenging time using these services, because in general, that’s not who these systems are designed for,” Sendak said.

Designing inclusive tools often necessitates an unconventional approach to research and development, such as adding anthropologists and sociologists to the team of engineers and health care providers helping to develop a new AI tool for the clinic. 

In addition to leading interdisciplinary teams of clinicians, researchers, and engineers, Sendak helps train medical scholarship awardees. He encourages them to think creatively by putting them to work on technical projects which require them to build a product and unleash it in the real world. It’s that kind of tangible impact that keeps Sendak inspired and excited to come to work every day.

“I ground a lot of the work I’m doing in the mindset of patients who are going to have the most challenging time using these services, because in general, that’s not who these systems are designed for.”

“I find myself thinking: This thing we built is out there in the real world and every day I come in and I can see it working,” he said.

—  Erin Brodwin

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