Data-Driven Loyalty: Ed Mitchel celebrates 50 years of service

Vanderbilt has been a big part of Ed Mitchel’s life for more than 50 years. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in May 1971, Ed, a database analyst in the Department of Health Policy, answered a job advertisement in the paper that led to his 50-year tenure at the Medical Center.

“I graduated from Vanderbilt in May, saw an advertisement for a position as a research chemist in endocrinology, which turned out to really be a medical technology position, and I applied for it and got it and started working that June,” he said. “I remember my first day quite well. At that time, [our department] was located on the first floor of Medical Center North, and I remember going in there and being impressed at how people were actually doing the things I'd been learning in school, except they were doing them for a good cause and producing very useful results.”

Ed began his career working in the division of endocrinology in the department of medicine as a medical technologist, and, from 1989 to present, he served in the department of preventative medicine, which is now known as the department of health policy.

As a database analyst, Ed helps collect and generate data sets – such as pharmaceutical data, patient discharge data and vital records – used by physicians and medical students to evaluate the evaluate the safety of medications. 

“He is among the very few programmers with expertise in the use and management of the complex Tennessee Medicaid family of databases. Ed implements research protocols by designing programs to extract and organize data and make it accessible to his colleagues. He does all this work in a highly efficient, logical and reliable manner,” said Carlos Grijalva, MD, MPH, Professor, Health Policy.

Grijalva said a unique aspect of Ed’s work is the design, refinement and maintenance of algorithms that link individual database records with their corresponding birth or death certificates. Ed has used vital status data, provided by the state of Tennessee, to complement research records available from Medicaid or other sources, enabling the longitudinal follow-up of research subjects over time, and the study of exposure to medications and vaccines during pregnancy and their potential consequences on babies. 

“Ed has dedicated a lot of work to the development and refinement of the Vanderbilt mother-child linked data. This distinct resource has been integral to several research projects and has helped distinguish these Vanderbilt data resources from others,” Grijalva said.

Ed says much about the Medical Center has changed in 50 years – the introduction of computers, for example. In fact, Ed went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in computer programming to help him better do his job – although Ed will tell you he’s actually faster than the computer.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Ed’s meticulous attention to detail and unwavering commitment to excellence.

“Ed is meticulous in all that he does and goes above and beyond the call of duty to assist his colleagues to ensure that research projects are conducted with the highest rigor and quality. Ed is a natural collaborator and is well liked and respected by all with whom he works. He is an incredible asset to his Department and our institution and the work that we do,” said Kecia Carroll, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of General Pediatrics, the Center for Child Health Policy.

C. Michael Stein, MBChB, Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, said “Ed contributes far beyond his position or job description in many, many ways - intellect, diligence, perfectionism, independence, collaboration, collegiality and loyalty. His dedication to the research of his group and his collaborators over decades is impressive. The work we do hinges on attention to detail - the smallest slip in programming can destroy a project; we have been fortunate to work with Ed whose attention to detail has made our work possible.”

“Ed’s work is the foundation for decades of impactful research that continues to influence the safer and more effective use of many common prescription drugs and vaccines,” said Andrew Wiese, Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy. “Ed has a unique ability to communicate the complexity of the data and the extensive detail in his programming to his colleagues in a way that enhances their understanding and improves the product of the study. Ed possesses a distinctive inquisitiveness to detect problems before they are apparent and a unique creativity to resolve issues as they arise. Ed’s colleagues have full trust and confidence in his work, and he has been vital to our work in the department.”

When Ed is not impacting important research efforts, he can be found with his nose in a book. He is an incredibly avid book reader; his plan for the ideal weekend is invariably to “find a comfortable place to read a good book.” He also likes to hang out at the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM.